Hidden danger of common heart test

When you think you might be having a heart attack, you don't question anything they want to do to you.

If they tell you that you need to stand on the roof in the rain and count to 100, you'll be on the next elevator up.

Now, an alarming new study shows how hospitals take advantage of frightened patients just like you.

Instead of giving you the best possible care to save your life, they're working overtime to pad the bottom line, pushing every test in the book your way... including some you don't need.

And that means you could get slammed with dangerously high doses of cancer-causing radiation for no reason at all!

The new study finds that all of those extra tests add zero benefit to the diagnosis and treatment of patients with chest pain.

Folks who get CT scans and nuclear stress tests -- both of which involve alarmingly high levels of radiation -- don't get out of the hospital sooner.

They don't get treated faster, either -- and, most importantly, they don't have better outcomes.

Patients who get those extra scans have the SAME rate of bypass surgery and procedures to reopen plugged-up arteries. They even have the SAME risk of a heart attack over the following month.

In other words, the scans add nothing other than hundreds of dollars to the bill.

It would be one thing if the tests themselves were harmless. Better safe than sorry, after all.

But CT scans involve hundreds of times the levels of radiation of a typical chest X-ray, and a coronary angiography can slam you with up to 800 times the radiation of a chest X-ray.

That radiation doesn't go away after the test.

It stays with you... and if you've had other tests over the years, it all adds up.

It adds up so rapidly that CT scans alone are now considered major cause of cancer.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute once calculated the risk and found that the 72 million CT scans carried out in 2007 would lead to 29,000 cancers down the road, some of which are no doubt already appearing.

Another study found that 1 in 400 to 2,000 CT scans would lead to a cancer.

If you've had just one scan, that's already a big risk. But if you've had two, three, four, or -- like many older folks -- DOZENS of tests involving radiation over the years, that can add up.

Obviously, there are times when you need these tests, and you shouldn't flat-out refuse them in every case.

But if you have mild chest pain, no other symptoms, and your blood tests and EKG tests are all clean, ask your doctor if the more invasive tests and radiation are truly necessary.