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X-ray during pregnancy: Is it safe?

Is it safe to have an X-ray during pregnancy?

Updated: 2024-03-07

Answer Section

The possibility of an X-ray during pregnancy causing harm to a fetus is very small. Generally, the benefits of the information from an X-ray outweigh the risks.

X-rays used to look for health problems sometimes are called diagnostic imaging. Most use a low dose of radiation. And many X-rays don't directly expose reproductive organs to radiation beams. Examples include X-rays of the teeth, head, arms, legs or chest. You do not need to wear a lead apron during those X-rays even when you're pregnant.

X-rays that focus on the abdomen, lower back or pelvis could directly expose the belly to X-ray beams. The risk of harm to a fetus with this type of X-ray depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy. The amount of radiation and type of X-ray also make a difference. There are steps your healthcare team can take to minimize radiation to the fetus.

Getting many X-rays to the abdomen in a short amount of time in the very early stages of pregnancy could lead to health concerns for a developing baby. Receiving radiation in very high doses during the first two weeks after conception could cause a miscarriage.

High doses of radiation during the first eight weeks after conception raise the risk of some birth defects, including:

  • A fetus growing less than expected. This is called fetal growth restriction.
  • A baby's head being smaller at birth than is typical for a newborn. The medical term for this is microcephaly.
  • Birth defects that affect the bones, eyes or genitals.

From 8 to 15 weeks of pregnancy, a developing baby exposed to very high-dose radiation may be at higher risk of learning disabilities. But the radiation levels needed to cause these changes are much higher than used in typical diagnostic imaging.

Before you have an X-ray, tell your healthcare professional if you are pregnant or if you are trying to become pregnant. It may be possible to postpone the X-ray. If it can't be postponed, your healthcare team may be able to lower the amount of radiation in the X-ray and take steps to minimize radiation to the fetus.

If you have a child who needs an X-ray, don't hold the child during the X-ray if you are pregnant or if you might be pregnant.

If you had an X-ray before you knew you were pregnant, talk about it with your healthcare professional.