Medical diagnosis and the treatment of patients often require the use of equipment that emits X-rays to produce radiographs of areas of the patient's body otherwise only accessible through surgery. X-rays and radiographs can be used to look into recesses of the lungs, the heart and the bowels, to examine soft tissues for the presence of foreign materials or to determine if a bone is fractured. Dentists use these films to judge the health of teeth. They sometimes must be taken before other diagnostic procedures, such as surgical biopsies or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests, can proceed.
Frequent or prolonged exposure to the radiological materials that produce X-rays is a risk both for patients and for medical professionals. Radiation exposure can cause damage to the cells of the body, especially the reproductive organs, if used incorrectly. Side-effects can continue years after exposure. One solution to this problem is the use of lead aprons, often referred to as X-ray aprons.
Lead stops radiation, and the traditional X-ray apron contains layers of lead mixed with other prohibitive metals and is separated by layers of sewn nylon and other synthetic fabrics. An apron containing lead must ensure there is no contact between human skin and the lead, because lead exposure itself can be a health hazard. There are many varied styles, but the most common aprons drape the front of the body from the shoulders on down, protecting the abdomen, chest and the reproductive areas from harm. Some aprons are smaller, intended to cover only a specific part of the body. Often for chest X-rays, the patient will be covered by a small apron that shields only the reproductive regions.
In addition to the patient, medical professionals should also wear lead aprons when performing radiological procedures. Sometimes patients may require physical support in order to properly place the body part to be X-rayed. X-raying children may also require staff to be near the child to assist and comfort. The staff doing so in both situations should be covered with an X-ray apron.
Some medical professionals whose entire day is spent near radiological sources may decide to wear radiation protection continually, a good idea because of the health danger from prolonged exposure even to minimal doses of radiation. There are different styles and materials available for radiation protection. Alternative garment technologies offer lighter-weight composite materials that block radiation just as well as pure lead.