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There is an inherent risk involved with any medical procedure. Even a routine exam with an otoscope could have detrimental effects on the patient, if not properly used. That being said, a routine exam is certainly not as risky as an exploratory surgery. Just as Diagnostic Medical Sonography is not as inherently dangerous as an X-ray or an MRI. The dangers of radiation may seem obvious to us now. However, these dangers were not so obvious to us in the past. The scientific community today is much more thorough than it once was. DMS has been researched by this same community and the consensus is that it is relatively safe.
The phrase “relatively safe” does not mean that it is 100% safe. There are risks that we understand and guard against. There are others that we may not fully recognize, just as Marie Curie did not recognize the dangers of exposure to radium. A standard X-ray utilizes ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is strong enough to remove electrons from an atom.
This is very dangerous when exposed to living tissue as it can cause our cells to die or mutate. DMS does not have these same problems because the equipment creates non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to completely remove electrons from an atom. This does not mean it is not at all harmful.
According to OSHA non-ionizing radiation can pose considerable health risks when workers are exposed to sources that are not properly controlled. Fortunately, DMS equipment is designed to minimize these risks. To control the effects of DMS on the body we must first look at the power and intensity of the equipment being used. This is typically measured in mW/cm2.
If a machine was used with a high enough intensity it could damage the tissue being scanned. Because of this, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine has proposed guidelines that have been demonstrated to be safe. Exposure cannot increase the temperature more than 1°C.
The exposure intensity must also be less than 1 W/cm2. DMS equipment falls well within these guidelines. Cavitation is another risk involved with DMS procedures. Cavitation is defined as the formation of empty space within a solid object or body.
Much research has been done on this subject as it plays a large role in the noise and efficiency of propellers. The military wants quiet submarines and that has led to a better understanding how increased energy can produce pockets of heated air. Medically speaking, these bubbles can potentially cause tissue damage.
The phrase “blood is thicker than water” might take on a different meaning when talking about cavitation. Because the viscosity of blood is higher, the risk of bubbles forming is lower. There are non-DMS procedures that purposefully cause cavitation but they are using specific equipment designed for this purpose. DMS equipment is designed to minimize the risk of cavitation. If one tries to look up the risk factors of DMS procedures, you will find many articles talking about how safe it is.
The Mayo Clinic states that aside from some very rare complications, the most a patient will ever have to worry about is a slight discomfort from the equipment. Obviously, a transducer inserted inside the body will cause more discomfort than one used externally. Even when there are complications, they are typically caused by stress involved with the testing procedure and not by the sound waves themselves.I understand that even though DMS has been deemed safe there are still some risks involved. There is no way to make it 100% safe, especially when a procedure is being performed by students who are just starting out. I believe that if given the proper respect the dangers of DMS are nominal. Proper safety guidelines were followed in the construction of the equipment that was designed to be safe for general use.
To be honest, I am more worried about the strain the DMS program will place on my mind rather than what it will do to the rest of my body. Achievements are rarely gained without some type of risk. The trick for me is to weigh these risks against the possible gains. While looking through the Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine I read an article that stated, “Abnormal umbilical cord insertion, as well as intrauterine growth restriction, was determined to be correlated with the presence of congenital heart disease.” I don’t yet understand DMS enough to fully comprehend all the details of this article. What I do understand is how fascinating the world of DMS can be.
I will gladly scan and be scanned in the lab, if it means that I will one day get to take my place in the DMS field.