The last year has seen a significant increase in data on the serious occupational hazards of working in the cath lab. The interventional community is beginning to take note of the rising concern: data and best practices are being presented at conferences, a new organization has been developed that is dedicated to raising awareness for these risks, and entire courses are being dedicated to radiation safety. Unfortunately, new data suggests that there is yet another in the long list of risks to interventional teams: cognitive impairment as a result of long term exposure to low dose ionizing radiation.
One recent study, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, found that professionals exposed to radiation while working in the cardiac catheterization lab had significant deficits in verbal long-term memory and verbal fluency compared to a control group of non-exposed professionals. The study compared 83 medical professionals (physicians, technicians, nurses) who had been exposed to radiation while working in the cardiac catheterization lab (exposed group, EG) to 83 medical professionals in other specialties who had not been exposed to radiation at work (non-exposed group, nEG). What is alarming about this data is that these particular abilities tend to be associated with activity in the left hemisphere of the brain, which can receive up to 4.7 times more radiation exposure than the right side of the head.
During the study, participants completed 12 different tests designed to assess neuropsychological abilities. The participants were matched for age, gender, and education and none of the participants had a history of neurological/psychiatric disorders, drug abuse, or severe/chronic illness. The study’s authors found that while many of the tests yielded no significant differences, the exposed group had significantly lower scores in delayed recall, visual short-term memory, and semantic lexical access tests, which suggest alterations to the left hemisphere of the brain as a result of radiation exposure.
By now, we have heard of studies on many of the occupational risks, or personally known individuals affected by these injuries and illnesses, which include cataracts, orthopedic injury from wearing heavy lead, and cancer or more specifically, brain tumors. This first of its kind data sheds light on yet another risk to medical professionals working in the cath lab. These findings are alarming and we believe the medical community and industry can agree that more needs to be done to protect the physicians and staff performing interventional procedures requiring radiation.
The study authors note, “If the risk of orthopedic and cancer problems has long been noted, that of brain aging is neglected and underestimated, or even clouded by approximations.” The key takeaway from this study is that radiation safety should be a priority for everyone in the cath lab, something we all should know by now. The individuals who have devoted themselves to improving the lives of their patients should not have to risk their own health to do so.
Interested in learning more about the occupational hazards of radiation exposure in the cath lab? Download our free infographic here:
Marazziti D, et al. Neuropsychological Testing in Interventional Cardiology Staff after Long-Term Exposure to Ionizing Radiation. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2015 Oct;21(9):670-6. doi: 10.1017/S135561771500082X. Epub 2015 Sep 24.