Is It Safe To Have An X-Ray During Pregnancy?

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An x-ray is a diagnostic tool that can effectively help a doctor analyze a patient’s medical condition. However, the procedure exposes a person to some amount of radiation, which makes women apprehensive about the safety of getting an x-ray during pregnancy and whether it affects the mother and her unborn baby’s health.

Read this post as we tell you about the safety of an x-ray during pregnancy, its effects on you and your baby, and tips to minimize or prevent the risks of x-rays during pregnancy.

Is It Safe To Have An X-Ray During Pregnancy?

Ideally, doctors don’t recommend an x-ray for pregnant women. They consider no-radiation techniques such as an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging to diagnose a condition or an injury. However, a diagnostic x-ray may sometimes become necessary to determine the appropriate treatment for a particular condition.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the risk of an x-ray is not too high. If the benefits of an x-ray to figure out the condition outweigh the potential risk of radiation, your doctor may give the go-ahead for it (1).

Are All X-Rays Safe For Pregnant Women?

The safety of an x-ray depends on the part of the body it is for and the amount of radiation that you are exposed to. If the x-ray is for parts other than your reproductive organs, then your pregnancy is not at risk. Therefore, the doctor might recommend an x-ray of the parts, including legs, arms, chest, teeth, or head, if they think it is necessary.

But if an x-ray of the lower torso, including the lower back, pelvis, abdomen, kidneys, or stomach is needed, then there is a risk of the unborn baby being exposed to some radiation (2).

According to the Health Physics Society, the effects of radiation exposure during pregnancy also depend on factors such as the fetal development stage and the magnitude of the radiation dose (3).

For instance, a specialty x-ray could expose you to a higher dose of radiation while a regular one won’t. So always find out about the type of x-ray you need and discuss with your doctor and a medical physicist (from the radiology department) to evaluate the risk.

Risks Of X-Ray During Pregnancy

An x-ray during pregnancy is not necessarily harmful to you or your baby. But if the unborn baby is exposed to the radiation, then it could be a cause of concern.

1. Based on the amount of radiation exposure

The amount of x-ray radiation absorbed by the body is measured in terms of rad. An unborn baby exposed to over 10 rad could be at risk of developing eye problems, learning disability, childhood cancer, and birth defects (4).

In most of the cases, the unborn baby receives a fraction of the rad, with minimal risk. Very rarely does a single x-ray exceed 5 rad. To be precise, it would take more than 5,000 x-rays of a leg or an arm for an exposure of 5 rad. Similarly, it would take 50 or more x-rays of the chest to reach an exposure of 5 rad.

2. Based on the fetal age

According to Dr. Vijay Hanchate from King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, the degree of x-ray radiation sensitivity varies in different stages of fetal development (5).

  • Pre-implantation stage: This period is from zero to 14 days, wherein the radiation sensitivity is low, and usually there is no effect. But in case the magnitude of the dose is high, then the implantation will not occur.
  • Organogenesis stage: This is from the 15th to 50th day, which is the first trimester. The sensitivity during this stage is high, and so the risk to the unborn baby is more. Even if the radiation exposure is low during this stage, there could be a risk of congenital malformation.
  • Fetal stage: This is the final stage or growth stage, and the sensitivity is less. Therefore, the risk to the baby is low.

Following certain guidelines can help you prevent the risks of x-ray during pregnancy.

Tips To Minimize Or Prevent The Risk Of X-Ray During Pregnancy

Keep the following points in mind to reduce the risks if you have to get an x-ray during your pregnancy.

  • When accompanying someone to an x-ray room, stay away from the x-ray machine. You can wear a lead apron to protect your reproductive organs and stay safe.
  • If you think you are pregnant or have been trying to conceive, and the doctor recommends an x-ray for diagnosing an injury or a condition, get the pregnancy test done first and then go for the x-ray. If your pregnancy is confirmed, let your doctor know about it so that they can decide whether or not you should have an x-ray.
  • If you had taken an x-ray in the past few months to diagnose a medical condition or an injury, you might share the same with the doctor. In this way, a new x-ray may not be required.

What If You Don’t Know You Are Pregnant?

It is common not to know the early symptoms of pregnancy. Don’t worry if you get an x-ray done in such a case, as the risks are usually minimal.

But if you have been trying to conceive and your doctor recommends an x-ray for some reason, tell your doctor about your plans and proceed accordingly.

Exposure to radiation when pregnant may, at times, prove harmful to the baby. Although the impact may not be huge, it is better to understand the risks involved before proceeding. An X-ray during pregnancy may be recommended by your doctor for a better diagnosis of certain conditions. So choose a doctor who is well-versed about the safe radiation levels for pregnancy to avoid complications. Moreover, before going for an X-ray, you may ask alternatives for your satisfaction and as a preventive measure.

Key Pointers

  • Although doctors prefer not to prescribe x-rays for pregnant women, it may be required to determine the best treatment for a specific condition.
  • An x-ray during pregnancy isn’t always harmful, and the risks vary depending on the quantity of radiation and fetal age.
  • Wear a lead apron, stay away from the X-ray machine, and tell the doctor if you’ve recently had an X-ray to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. X-Rays, Pregnancy and You; U. S. Food & Drug Administration
2.Is it Safe to Get an X-ray While Pregnant; University of Virginia Health System (2017)
3. Radiation Exposure and Pregnancy; Health Physics Society (2010)
4.Pregnancy and x-rays; Orthoinfo: the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
5. How Safe is Radiation in Pregnancy?; King Edward Memorial Hospital
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Dr. Anita Gondy

(MD, FACOG)
Dr. Anita Gondy is an Ob/Gyn at The Ob-Gyn Center in Las Vegas. In practice since 1998, Dr. Gondy began her medical training at Rangaraya Medical College in Kakinada, India and completed studies at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, where she also did an obstetrics and gynecology residency. She is also a Fellow member of The American College... more

Shikha Thakur

Shikha is a writer-turned-associate editor at MomJunction. Her core interest lies in writing articles that guide couples through their courtship to marriage and parenthood. She also specializes in baby names. Being a postgraduate in Human Resources, she likes understanding people and their relationships. This reflects in her relationship articles, where she deals with both the rosy and the grey side... more

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