Is it safe to have an X-ray during pregnancy?
Answer From Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.
The possibility of an X-ray during pregnancy causing harm to your unborn child is very small. Generally, the benefits of the diagnostic information from an X-ray outweigh the potential risk to a baby. However, if you received a large number of abdominal X-rays over a short period before you were aware of your pregnancy, your baby could be affected.
Most X-ray exams — including those of the legs, head, teeth or chest — won't expose your reproductive organs to the direct X-ray beam, and a lead apron can be worn to provide protection from radiation scatter.
The exception is abdominal X-rays, which expose your belly — and your baby — to the direct X-ray beam. The risk of harm to your baby depends on your baby's gestational age and the amount of radiation exposure. Exposure to extremely high-dose radiation in the first two weeks after conception might result in a miscarriage. However, these dose levels aren't used in diagnostic imaging.
Exposure to high-dose radiation two to eight weeks after conception might increase the risk of fetal growth restriction or birth defects. Exposure between weeks 8 and 16 might increase the risk of a learning or intellectual disability. But the typical dose of a single radiation exposure associated with a diagnostic X-ray is much lower than the high dose associated with these complications.
Before having an X-ray, tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant. Depending on the circumstances, it might be possible to postpone the X-ray or modify it to reduce the amount of 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, talk to your health care provider.
Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.
March 19, 2022
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See more Expert Answers
- Kruskal JB. Diagnostic imaging in pregnant and nursing women. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 1, 2019.
- X-rays, pregnancy and you. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-x-ray-imaging/x-rays-pregnancy-and-you. Accessed Nov. 1, 2019.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Committee Opinion No. 723: Guidelines for diagnostic imaging during pregnancy and lactation. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2017; doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000002355.