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X-Rays and X-Ray Aprons Past and Present

| September 2, 2012

X-Rays and X-Ray Aprons Past and Present
By Jeremy P Stanfords

In 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Rantgen was testing the effects of passing electrical discharges through a vacuum tube. He’d added a cardboard covering to the tube to prevent light from escaping, yet during the experiment, he noticed a fluorescent effect on a nearby screen painted with barium platinocyanide. Rantgen concluded that an unknown type of ray was responsible for the effect. Rantgen temporarily named the rays “x-rays,” with “X” substituting for the unknown factor. Although x-radiation is called “Rantgen Rays” in several languages, they are most widely known as x-rays.

R?ntgen experimented with different materials to determine which was most effective at stopping the rays. At one point, he held up a piece of lead and saw an image of the bones of his own hand displayed on the barium platinocyanide screen, the first radiographic image. Today, Rantgen is considered the father of diagnostic radiology.

Rantgen Rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation. When an x-ray interacts with a substance, it knocks around the electrons in the atoms, expending some of its energy. Dense materials with relatively large amounts of atoms, like lead, absorb more of the x-ray’s energy than the atoms in a human body. Prolonged exposure to radiation can damage human DNA and cause cancer. Leaded aprons protect the vital parts of the body that are not being imaged from excess radiation.

Depending on the source of radiation and the amount of lead in an x-ray apron, leaded aprons can block 90 to 95 percent of the x-rays that strike the apron. For patients, risks from radiation are very low. Most people receive more exposure from the natural environment in the form of background radiation than they do from x-rays. Even without an apron, a typical chest or dental x-ray is equal to around 10 days of background radiation. Lead aprons are a recommended precautionary measure to reduce doses, particularly to reproductive organs. For radiographers and technologists who encounter a greater degree of exposure, they are essential shields.

Leaded aprons are made by combining lead with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or synthetic rubber. Multiple sheets of the resulting material are layered between sheets of urethane-coated nylon fabric. Manufacturers make a variety of aprons for different applications and for different levels of exposures. Some models feature plastic struts and braces for extra shoulder support. Wrap-around aprons provide enhanced protection. Two-piece models are available as well.

Wilhelm Rantgen could never have imagined just how far his discovery of x-rays would advance modern medicine. With the help of shielding clothing like leaded aprons, diagnostic radiology has transformed the way many diseases are diagnosed.

Author is a freelance writer. For more information on leaded aprons please visit http://www.burmed.com/

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