X-rays and other tests that involve the use of barium meals and dyes may not be as safe and routine as your doctor would have you believe.
Ten cases of pulmonary oedema – where fluid collects in the lungs – have been reported to the UK drug regulators following one of the tests, and three people died from the reaction. In all, it is estimated that 0.04 per cent of these tests can result in a serious reaction, although up to 10 per cent report mild effects, such as a heat sensation.
These reactions came to light when two doctors investigated the safety of the procedure after one of their patients died when she was given iopamidol, a radiopaque contrast medium, before having an X-ray.
The patient, a 72-year-old woman with a history of bladder cancer, was to have a urograph, an X-ray that checks the urinary system, after she found blood in her urine. Doctors at Horton Hospital in Banbury, where she went for the X-ray, said she was in good health and had no allergies.
However, within five minutes of being given the iopamidol, she complained of feeling hot and being unable to breathe. She was taken to the emergency room, where they found that she had acute pulmonary oedema, but she died an hour later (Lancet, 2002; 359: 1037-8).