Alarming Medical Tests

Ten thousand radiation detectors are now in use across the country. They're part of the national post 9-11 efforts to stop terrorists. But Consumer Reports warns, you could set off a detector if you've had any number of common medical tests.

This patient is undergoing a standard cardiac test to see if his heart is getting enough blood. He's been injected with a radioactive substance so his doctor, Lionel Zuckier, can look at an image of his heart. This test is one of many nuclear medicine tests that use radioactive drugs.

“This would include bone scans, different cardiac scans, pet scans, a wide variety of different nuclear medicine tests."

What many patients don't realize is that small traces of the chemicals left in the body can set off a radiation detector.

Dr. Zuckier shows how his patient can trigger the type of detector now widely used around the country.

Detectors like this are used at our borders to prevent nuclear material from entering the country. They're also used on highways and transit hubs, as well as malls and other places where people gather.

Consumer reports' Kim Kleman says being stopped by authorities can be unnerving, especially if you don't realize medical tests can trigger a radiation detector's alarm.

"We talked to a man who was followed home and questioned by the FBI after he'd had a nuclear medicine test. In another case, a woman who'd had a bone scan was stopped on the Washington metro."

And at this mall, the legal sea foods restaurant was evacuated after a policeman's radiation detector went off.

"It turned out one of the diners had had a nuclear medicine test that morning."

Dr. Zuckier's research shows the length of time radiation remains in the body varies. For pet scans it's under 24 hours. For bone and thyroid scans, 3 days. For cardiac tests, up to 30 days and for iodine therapy up to 95 days.

"If you get one of these tests, we recommend that you carry a letter from your doctor in case you get stopped."

And make sure the letter has a telephone number to reach the doctor or hospital 24 hours a day.

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