Obesity can hamper medical diagnoses

An increase in obesity has doubled the number of inconclusive medical diagnoses in the US since 1989, a new report has found.

Scientists analysed all radiology exams conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) between 1989 and 2003 to determine the effect of weight gain on image quality and diagnosis.

According to the results, which are published in the August issue of the journal Radiology, there was an increase in the number of tests which were deemed "limited by body habitus" (patient size).

"While 0.1 per cent of inconclusive exams were due to patient size in 1989, by 2003 the number had jumped to 0.19 per cent, despite advances in imaging technology," said Dr Raul Uppot, lead author and Staff radiologist at MGH.

Key tests affected were abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography and X-rays as well as chest X-rays, chest CT and MRI scans of all body regions.

Inconclusive diagnoses do not just affect the patient's health, but also have economic ramifications, the report states. Further testing may be required and obesity can also place stress on the imaging systems due to increased power output.

Dr Uppot warned that, although medical advances could help to tackle the problem in the short term, "cultural shifts" must be made to promote healthier diets and the benefits of exercise.

Obesity continues to be a problem in the UK, with the prevalence of childhood obesity increasing markedly since the 1990s.

Rates of obesity for boys and girls stood at ten and 12 per cent respectively in 1995, rising to 17 per cent for both sexes in 2002.

An increasing number of seriously obese people now elect to have surgical procedures which can significantly aid weight loss and improve life expectancy, although these operations are severely limited on the NHS.

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