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Radiodensity (or radiopacity) refers to the relative inability of electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays, to pass through a particular material. Radiolucency indicates greater transparency or "transradiancy" to X-ray photons. Materials that inhibit the passage of electromagnetic radiation are called radiodense or radiopaque, while those that allow radiation to pass more freely are referred to as radiolucent. The term refers to the relatively opaque white appearance of dense materials or substances on radiographic imaging studies, compared with the relatively darker appearance of less dense materials.
X-rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, with photon energies above those of visible (and ultraviolet) light. X-rays are distinguished from gamma rays in that they are produced not by transitions within the atomic nucleus, but either by deceleration of a charged particle or by the transition of state of orbital electrons. Diagnostic X-rays are produced using X-ray tubes. The radio waves portion of the electromagnetic spectrum represents much lower energy/frequency photons than visible light. Thus, referring to the property of X-ray density as radiodensity appears contradictory by current knowledge, but is still used as a historical artifact.
Though the term radiodensity is more commonly used in the context of qualitative comparison, radiodensity can also be quantified according to the Hounsfield scale, a principle which is central to X-ray computed tomography (CT scan) applications. On the Hounsfield scale, distilled water has a value of 0 Hounsfield units (HU), while air is specified as -1000 HU.
In modern medicine, radiodense substances are those that will not allow X-rays or similar radiation to pass. Radiographic imaging has been revolutionized by radiodense contrast media, which can be passed through the bloodstream, the gastrointestinal tract, or into the cerebral spinal fluid and utilized to highlight CT scan or X-ray images. Radiopacity is one of the key considerations in the design of various devices such as guidewires or stents that are used during radiological intervention. The radiopacity of a given endovascular device is important since it allows the device to be tracked during the interventional procedure. The two main factors contributing to a material's radiopacity are density and atomic number. Two common radiodense elements used in medical imagery are barium and iodine.
Medical devices often contain a radiopacifier to enhance visualization during implantation for temporary implantation devices, such as catheters or guidewires, or for monitoring the position of permanently implanted medical devices, such as stents, hip and knee implants, and screws. Metal implants usually have sufficient radiocontrast that additional radiopacifier is not necessary. Polymer-based devices, however, usually incorporate materials with high electron density contrast compared to the surrounding tissue. Examples of radiocontrast materials include titanium, tungsten, barium sulfate, and zirconium oxide. When testing a new medical device for regulatory submission, device manufacturers will usually evaluate the radiocontrast according to ASTM F640 "Standard Test Methods for Determining Radiopacity for Medical Use."
- Novelline, Robert. Squire's Fundamentals of Radiology. Harvard University Press. 5th edition. 1997. ISBN 0-674-83339-2.