Radiation Blog

Lead Apron – What Is It Used For?

10.14.20 | Wednesday | Nofit Amir

Healthcare personnel, especially doctors and technicians, as well as first responders and scientists working with radiation, are always at risk of suffering severe exposure. Efforts to minimize exposure while increasing efficiency for this group of people have led to the design of modern lead aprons which are much more effective than their older siblings in reducing radiation hazards.

Advanced Lead Apron Used in the  StemRad MD

What is a lead apron?

A lead apron is personal protective equipment (PPE) made of radiation shielding material, worn to minimize the dose of radiation the wearer absorbs. The protective fabric in the apron is made from lead-infused rubber and can be designed in a variety of ways. Each design, however, offers protection for the vital parts of the body, many times resulting in decreased mobility and heavy weight.

lead apron

The parts of a lead apron are:

  1. Front cover: Full frontal protection is available. Made from a durable rubber material, the cover extends from the collarbone down to halfway between the knee and feet. The lead lining in the material is protective but light enough for comfort. The front cover has buttons or buckles to fasten the overlaying cover in place. There are also leaded pockets for extra convenience.
  2. The leaded skirt: The second main part of the apron covers the lower parts of the body from the waist down.
  3. Arm and shoulder cover: Some aprons come with leaded sleeves extending up to the shoulder for arm protection. The shoulders area the main front cover may have extra pads and memory foam for extra support.
  4. Belt: Belts are sometimes added to increase comfort and stability. They may also hold digital radiation counters for real-time monitoring.

How lead aprons are used

Lead aprons are used for medical procedures involving radiation at comparatively low doses. Fluoroscopy, dental procedures, and x-ray are some examples. A lead apron must be checked for breakages in the protective material before initial use and discarded if found. It is also recommended to have a radiation badge on the outside and inside of the apron for continued monitoring of  dose. For storage, they should be hung freely to avoid squeezing or folding which may lead to cracks.

Benefits of using a modern lead apron

  1. Safety: Lead aprons can attenuate over 90% of 80 kVp radiation. This is possible because they offer the same protection as 0.25- to 1-mm thick lead. This protection is important because of the common health complications which health workers suffer after long years of radiation exposure. Some of these are cancer, cataracts, etc. Using lead aprons drastically reduces the chances of cancer while goggles marginally reduce the probability of cataracts.
  2. Comfort: Lead aprons should combine safety and comfort. Traditional lead protection equipment is heavy and reduces mobility to a large extent. Modern lead aprons may be lighter, allowing the wearers to move as much as they want and perform all their activities.

It is important to note that lead aprons are only used for certain types of radiation. Heavy isotopes such as 111In, 131I, 137Cs, or 131I emit radiation in frequencies that easily penetrate common aprons. For those, heavier personal protective equipment is required. However, lead aprons are enough for most hospital procedures.

Advances in Lead Apron Technology

  1. Zero-Gravity- a ceiling-tethered apron, reducing the load of the lead while confining the doctor to an area in the OR near the bed. Provides enhanced head protection.
  2. StemRad MDan exoskeleton-based apron which reduces the load of shielding from the wearer while allowing movement around the OR, also providing head protection in the form of a visor.

lead apron

In the future the lead apron may become obsolete due to steadily decreasing doses in the OR. Until then, any further technological advances such as the StemRad MD are welcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a lead apron weigh?

Lead aprons can range in weight from five to twenty-five pounds, but depending on the body movement, even a 10 pound apron can add an additional fifteen to fifty pounds of force on the wearer's joints. This is why the StemRad MD uses an exoskeleton to bear the weight of the shielding.

Why is lead used in lead apron?

Lead is an element with one of the best combinations of high atomic number and high density, which makes it among the most efficient materials for stopping X-ray and gamma radiation. It is also a soft material, lending flexibility to the apron.

Who should wear a lead apron?

Anyone who is not a patient and is in the room where radiation is being used should wear a lead apron.

What is the different thicknesses of protection in dental lead apron?

For dental radiography lead or lead equivalent aprons must have an attenuation equivalent to 0.3 mm of lead.

What is in a lead free apron for x ray protection?

A lead-free apron is a non-toxic alternative to lead aprons that is composed of various different heavy metals. Such aprons typically have to be thicker than the equivalent lead in order to provide the same shielding.

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