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Is It Ever Safe To Have An X-Ray During Pregnancy?

If you're female, and you need an X-ray, one of the first questions you typically get asked is "Any chance you could be pregnant?"

For years we have worried exposing a baby in the womb to radiation will cause a birth defect or some other complication, especially if the X-rays are done early in the pregnancy. But a new report in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says X-rays during pregnancy may not be as dangerous as some patients and doctors believe.

Sure, while we know that X-rays on anyone should be avoided if possible, it may be okay to shoot an image in pregnancy if it's agreed that the benefit outweighs the risk.

An X-ray of a twisted ankle probably causes minimal risk to a developing baby. So does an X-ray to an arm or  spine. Even dental X-rays don't pack much of a radiation punch. (Nonetheless, the abdomen always should be shielded with a lead apron to lessen exposure to stray particles.)

On the other hand, a CT scan of the pelvis involves much more radiation, and really requires some deep thought before flipping the switch on the scanner. But say a pregnant woman is in a car accident, and you're worried that she has a broken hip or pelvic bone, a CT may be necessary to make the diagnosis.

Experts say it's generally repeated scans over the course of a pregnancy that really are the big concern, and if that's the situation, a radiation expert (medical physicist) is usually consulted to add up radiation doses and calculate risk.

As for things like MRIs and ultrasounds, there is no radiation involved, and generally are not thought to pose any risk to a developing baby or a pregnant woman, according to this report.

Bottom line: the risk of not having an X-ray may be worse than having a lack of needed medical information. But as always, ask questions and have a discussion. What are the risks? What are the benefits?

Here's a link to more information: fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts

 

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