Prenatal Risks: Radiation & X-Rays

Prenatal Radiation Exposure

In early pregnancy the cells of the unborn child are diving rapidly, and large doses of radiation can be hazardous. Therefore pregnant women should avoid exposure to x-rays if at all possible. If you've had x-rays then later discovered that you were pregnant, it's understandable you would be concerned. The good news is that according to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), a unborn child exposed to 1 rem of radiation has less than one chance in a thousand of suffering birth defects as a result of the exposure, even if exposed during the most critical stages of development (3 to 8 weeks of pregnancy). The "natural" risk of congenital defect is much greater than any potential added risk from the x-rays.

Stay Safe

Although the risk of radition exposure to your baby during the below circumstances are relatively low, you should always be wary of receiving any radition exposure while you are pregnant and should always consult with your doctor before getting any sort of x-ray.  Low risk exposures are:

  • dental x-rays, even without a lead apron
  • diagnostic x-rays of the head, spine, chest or abdomen
  • barium enema
  • IVP
  • living near a nuclear power plant
  • working as an x-ray technologist (following good radiation safety guidelines)
  • x-rays to the fathers testicles just prior to conception

Airline Travel and Pregnancy

On an airplane, travelers are exposed to greater amounts of radiation than usual due to the high altitude. There has been some concern about radiation and air travel risk during pregnancy. Unless you take more than 10 flights during pregnancy, this is considered a non-issue in terms of radiation exposure. However, those who travel frequently such as pilots, flight attendants, couriers, and very frequent business travelers are advised to reduce their flight time.

What if I Had Radiation During Pregnancy?

If you were exposed to radiation during pregnancy, don't worry. According to AAPM, "...both the American College of Radiology and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology have adopted a policy that rarely if ever is termination of pregnancy advisable because of the radiation risk arising from diagnostic x-ray examinations."

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