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 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 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 very early in pregnancy will typically either result in a miscarriage or have no effect on your developing baby. Exposure to high-dose radiation between week two and week eight of pregnancy increases the risk of fetal growth restriction or birth defects, while exposure after week eight increases the risk that your baby will have a learning and intellectual disability. Remember, however, that 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 health care provider 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.
Feb. 16, 2018
Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Kruskal JB. Diagnostic imaging procedures during pregnancy. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Dec. 22, 2017.
- X-rays, pregnancy and you. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/MedicalImaging/MedicalX-Rays/ucm142632.htm. Accessed Dec. 22, 2017.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Obstetric Practice. Committee Opinion No. 723: Guidelines for diagnostic imaging during pregnancy and lactation. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2017;130:e210.