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Q&A: X-rays and Pregnancy

Q. I may have broken my arm, and my doctor wants to X-ray it. I'm afraid the X-ray will hurt my baby. Shouldn't I wait until after the baby is born?

A. There's no need to wait. The American College of Radiology reports that diagnostic X-rays rarely pose a threat to an unborn baby. There is little risk of tissue damage with any ionizing radiation under 5 rads, and most modern X-rays emit many fewer than 5 rads. In addition, current X-ray equipment can pinpoint specific areas, such as your arm. There's very little chance that your baby would be exposed to any radiation at all, especially when you wear a lead apron over your torso.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has also been deemed safe to use during pregnancy, but a CT scan (computerized tomography) may be less so. A CT scan uses multiple X-rays to examine the body and create its three-dimensional image, so there's more risk of radiation exposure for your baby. The amount of radiation exposure also depends on what area of the body is being investigated. It?s best if the abdomen and pelvis are shielded.

Even then, you have to weigh the risks against the benefits of having such a diagnostic test. Chances are good that your baby would suffer little or no tissue damage.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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