Cath lab personnel experience more health problems than unexposed staff

Italian researchers have successfully linked the amount of time spent inside cardiac catheterization labs—and therefore the time spent exposed to potentially harmful radiation—with an increased prevalence in negative health conditions such as skin lesions, cataracts and hypertension, according to results published online in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Interventions.

Staff who perform complex catheter-based cardiovascular procedures often are particularly susceptible to stress and anxiety related to their job performance as well as from orthopedic and musculoskeletal pain related to the necessary use of heavy protective aprons.

But radiation still reigns supreme as the biggest threat to cath lab staff, said study lead author Maria Grazia Andreassi, PhD, of the CNR Institute of Clinical Physiology in Pisa, Italy, and colleagues.

“Long-term radiation exposure remains the main occupational hazard,” they wrote. “Cardiologists and staff accumulate significant lifetime radiation exposure in the range of 50 to 200 mSv, corresponding to a whole body dose equivalent of 2,500 to 10,000 chest x-rays with a projected professional lifetime attributable excess cancer risk of 1 in 100.”

With this increased exposure to potentially harmful radiation, Andreassi and her team set out to examine the prevalence of health problems among interventional cardiology/cardiac electrophysiology staff and its relationship to occupational radiation exposure levels.

To do so, they sent self-administered questionnaires to interventional cardiologists, cardiac electrophysiologists, nurses and technicians to collect demographic information, work-related information, lifestyle-confounding factors, all current medications and current health status, then categorized the results according to exposed and non-exposed personnel.

The results showed exposed staff reported significantly higher prevalence of skin lesions, orthopedic illness, cataract, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia than those not regularly exposed to radiation.

“Health problems are more frequently observed in workers performing fluoroscopically guided cardiovascular procedures than in unexposed controls, raising the need to spread the culture of safety in the cath laboratory,” the researchers concluded. “Every effort should be made to raise the radiation awareness in the professional communities of interventional cardiologists and cardiac electrophysiologists, promoting justification of the examination, optimization of the dose, and maximal protection of the radiation workers.”