Is it safe to have an X-ray during pregnancy?

Answers from Roger W. Harms, M.D.

Yes — having an X-ray during pregnancy is generally considered safe. It's highly unlikely that a diagnostic X-ray during pregnancy will harm a developing baby.

Most X-ray exams — including those of the arms, legs, head, teeth or chest — won't expose your reproductive organs to radiation, and a leaded apron and collar can be worn to block any scattered radiation.

The exception is abdominal X-rays, which expose your abdomen — and your baby — to radiation. High doses of radiation can cause changes in a baby's rapidly growing cells. In turn, it's possible that these changes could slightly increase a baby's risk of birth defects or certain cancers, such as leukemia, later in life. Remember, however, that the typical dose of radiation associated with a diagnostic X-ray — even one of the abdomen or pelvis — doesn't pose this risk.

Before having an X-ray, tell your health care provider if you are or might be pregnant. Depending on the circumstances, it might be possible to do an imaging study that doesn't involve radiation. In addition, if you have a child who needs an X-ray, don't hold your child during the exam if you are or might be pregnant.

If you had a diagnostic X-ray before you knew you were pregnant, remember that any potential risk is exceedingly remote. Share any concerns about radiation exposure with your health care provider. He or she might consult a medical radiation physicist to calculate your baby's radiation exposure.

March 19, 2015 See more Expert Answers