World Journal of Surgery

, Volume 34, Issue 9, pp 2009-2016

First online:

Single-Centre Experience of Radiation Exposure in Acute Surgical Patients: Assessment of Therapeutic Impact and Future Recommendations

  • Gerard J. FitzmauriceAffiliated withDepartment of General Surgery, Daisy Hill Hospital
  • , Robin BrownAffiliated withDepartment of General Surgery, Daisy Hill Hospital
  • , Brian CranleyAffiliated withDepartment of General Surgery, Daisy Hill Hospital
  • , Enda F. ConlonAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, Daisy Hill Hospital
  • , R. Alan J. ToddAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, Daisy Hill Hospital
  • , Mark E. O’DonnellAffiliated withDepartment of General Surgery, Daisy Hill HospitalFaculty of Life and Health Sciences, University of Ulster Email author 

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Radiological investigations have become a key adjunct in patient management and consequently radiation exposure to patients is increasing. The study objectives were to examine the use of radiological investigations in the management of acute surgical patients and to assess whether a guideline-based radiation exposure risk/benefit analysis can aid in the choice of radiological investigation used.


A prospective observational study was completed over a 12-week period from April to July 2008 for all acute surgical admissions. Data recorded included demographics, clinical presentation, differential diagnosis, investigations, surgical interventions, and final clinical outcome. The use of radiological investigative modalities as an adjunct to clinical assessment was then evaluated against The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) guidelines.


A total of 380 acute surgical admissions (M = 174, F = 185, children = 21) were assessed during the study period. Seven hundred thirty-four radiological investigations were performed with a mean of 1.93 investigations per patient. Based on the RCR guidelines, 680 (92.6%) radiological investigations were warranted and included 142 CT scans (19.3%), 129 chest X-rays (17.6%), and 85 abdominal X-rays (11.6%). Clinically, radiological imaging complemented surgical management in 326 patients (85.8%) and the management plan remained unchanged for the remaining 54 patients (14.2%). This accounted for an average radiation dose of 4.18 millisievert (mSv) per patient or 626 days of background radiation exposure. CT imaging was responsible for the majority of the radiation exposure, with a total of 1310 mSv (82.6%) of the total radiation exposure being attributed to CT imaging in 20.8% of acute admissions. Subgroup analysis demonstrated that 92.8% of the CT scans performed were appropriate.


Radiation exposure was generally low for the majority of acute surgical admissions. However, it is recommended that CT imaging requests be evaluated carefully, particularly for patients with clinically confirmed pathologies and in younger women.