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 — such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging. 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. Instead, ask another person to take your place.

If you had a diagnostic X-ray before you knew you were pregnant, remember that any potential risk is exceedingly remote. If you had radiation treatment for a medical condition, the risks might be more significant. 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.

Mar. 17, 2012