What is an Effective Dose?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 April 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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The concept of an effective dose is used in several different, but related, ways in medicine. Generally speaking, it is the median amount of a compound needed to achieve a given effect in a population. This is important when studying medications and preparing prescriptions for patients. Radiologists use the effective dose to calculate safe levels of exposure for patients and caregivers, using information about how radiation effects the body to determine an effective dose for safety.

Also known as an ED-50, referring to the fact that the dose causes 50% of a study population to exhibit a given effect, the effective dose is used in formulating prescription amounts. The goal is to provide people with sufficient medication to provide a response, while hopefully avoiding side effects. The higher the dosage, the more likely side effects are, and keeping doses within the range of the effective dose can allow for therapeutic effects without putting patients at risk. In clinical studies, differing amounts of medication are used in the study population to collect dosage data.


For radiology, people consider the fact that radiation accumulates and acts differently in various areas of the body. Talking about a whole body dose of radiation is not very helpful, as a dose safe for one organ might cause damage in another. Instead, physicians use weighting, considering the effects of radiation on individual organs and calculating the safest whole body dose on the basis of the most sensitive organs in the body. This is useful for tracking radiation exposure in caregivers, addressing radiation concerns in medical imaging studies, and formulating therapies that use radioactive agents.

Safety is a significant concern with medications and other therapies like radiation. Exposure to these treatments can cause injuries in patients as their bodies react to radiation and chemical compounds. The risks associated with treatment must be weighed against the risks of not treating the patient at all to develop an appropriate treatment plan and decide on the best effective dose for a patient on the basis of the condition, the patient's history, and the risks involved.

For many medications, standard dosing is sufficient for most patients. Over-the-counter medications and many prescriptions come in standard doses deemed safe and effective for most people. For more dangerous therapies, individual calculations need to be performed to get the dosage just right for the patient, striking a balance between treatment too negligible to make a difference and strong enough to cause damage in the patient.



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