The controversy over x-ray during pregnancy stems from the fact that x-rays are a type of radiation that is invisible. They are a method of taking “pictures” of the organs and bones. The concern, however, is that studies have shown a very slight increase in the risk of certain cancers (such as leukemia) for unborn babies that are exposed to them while in the womb. In reality, however, this risk is still very small. Therefore, although it is true that in some cases having an x-ray done while pregnant will harm your baby, it may actually be harmful not to get one sometimes. Your baby needs you to be healthy in order for him or her to be healthy and sometimes x-rays are necessary for ensuring your health.
Receiving X-ray During Pregnancy—Is It Safe?
The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that most of the time x-rays will be generally safe to have done during pregnancy, but there is still a great deal of controversy. In the past, studies have had conflicting results and because of this, most doctors recommend only taking x-rays in cases when the benefits are greater than the risks. In some cases x-rays may provide life-saving information that is well worth the risk.
One important factor is the type of x-ray that will be done, as this can influence the amount of radiation involved. The general rule is that higher radiation levels mean a greater risk for your baby. Most of the x-rays such as dental ones won’t have high enough radiation levels to result in a problem for your unborn baby.
Experts measure the strength of x-rays using rads. These units display the amount of radiation the body absorbs. Past research has shown that if your unborn baby is exposed to 10 rads or more, they may have an increased risk of eye problems and learning disabilities. Despite this, most people don’t have to worry as the majority of x-rays will have less than 5 rads of strength.
In fact, most radiation levels are measured in millirads and it takes 1,000 of these to equal one rad. An example is dental x-rays which only have 0.01 millirads. It means that you would need to take 100,000 dental x-rays before your baby would even be exposed to one rad. The following figures are for other common types of x-rays:
- A chest x-ray is 60 millirads
- An abdominal x-ray is 290 millirads
- A CT scan is 800 millirads (but they are rarely used during pregnancy)
Look for more information about whether it is safe to receive an X-ray during pregnancy? Check out the video below:
What Are the Risks of Receiving X-Ray During Pregnancy?
Despite the controversy, the risk to either you or your unborn child will be very small from an x-ray. In fact, in many cases the risks associated with not having your doctor do the x-ray may be larger than your baby’s risk due to radiation. Birth defects are generally considered the largest concern, but even those are usually only the result during very high exposure in the first trimester. Although small, the largest risk for low dose radiation will be childhood cancer. Keep in mind that throughout a normal pregnancy your baby will be exposed to an environmental radiation which occurs in low doses. A detectable risk for cancer won’t occur until your baby has a dose which is 20 times that of environmental radiation and even then there is still only a one in five-hundred chance of getting childhood cancer.
How to Minimize the Risks of Receiving X-Ray During Pregnancy
Anytime that you are scheduled for an x-ray, be sure to let the radiographer know about your pregnancy. In some cases your doctor may cancel, postpone, or modify the test to adjust the radiation levels. In other cases your doctor will decide the risks of not having the test are larger than those associated with doing it, but you should always talk about it with him. Most of the time when you have an x-ray your abdomen will be covered using a lead gown to reduce the radiation dose further. Radiation levels are obviously higher in tests when you can’t wear this gown, for example, if you need x-rays of the abdominal area.
Talk to Your Healthcare Provider in Those Conditions
There are certain situations in which you should talk to your healthcare provider, including:
- If you had an x-ray taken before you were aware of the pregnancy, you will still have a very remote risk of problems. The risks may be higher in the case of radiation treatment (for various medical conditions) and in this case you should discuss your concerns with your doctor. He will probably work with a medical radiation physicist, so he can determine how much radiation your baby was exposed to.
- If you had radiation as part of cancer therapy before you knew you were pregnant, talk with your oncologist to find out about how much radiation your baby may have been exposed to. You should also see a genetic counselor or teratogen specialist.
- If you are exposed to radiation at work, then talk with your supervisor, so you can eliminate or reduce your exposure. In some cases, you can wear a special film badge which will monitor the radiation levels your body receives. It is actually possible to wear this badge by your stomach underneath a safety apron. You can also analyze these badges to check on the safety of your unborn child (and yourself).
- If you are worried that your employer won’t address the safety issues, contact OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). This government agency is in charge of workplace safety and can help you if necessary.