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Are X-Rays Safe During Pregnancy?

What are X-rays?

X-rays are a form of radiation. This kind of radiation is invisible. X-rays are used to make "pictures" of the bones and organs. They have been associated with a very small increased risk of cancer, particularly leukemia, for an unborn baby. But the risk is very small.

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Is it safe to have X-rays while I'm pregnant?

Yes, X-rays are generally safe in pregnancy. If your doctor finds you need X-rays for a medical problem or injury, it's okay to have them. It's better for your baby that you be healthy.

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Do all types of X-rays have the same amount of radiation?

No. Different types of X-rays have different amounts of radiation. Medical x-rays use very small amounts of radiation. If you're in needs of an X-ray so your doctor can properly treat you, you should have the X-ray.

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I found out I'm pregnant after I had an X-ray. What should I do now?

You don't really need to do anything. The risk to your baby from radiation is so small that most doctors would treat your pregnancy just like any other pregnancy. If you're really worried about your baby's risk, a radiation physicist can figure out exactly how much radiation your baby has been exposed to. Usually, an unborn baby shouldn't be exposed to more than 5 rad. Because most x-rays cause much less radiation than this, talk with your doctor to see if it will even help to find out the exact number of rads your baby was exposed to.

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If I have an X-ray, will my baby be born with a deformity?

Medical X-rays don't increase the number of babies born with deformities or birth defects. Even with no X-ray exposure, 4 to 6 percent of babies are born with some type of deformity. And most of these deformities are minor, like skin tags or an extra finger or toe.

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Could I have another test instead of an X-ray?

You might be able to have an ultrasound exam instead of an X-ray. Ultrasound, which is also called sonography, is the best alternative to an X-ray. Your doctor will use ultrasound if possible. No harm to an unborn baby has ever been reported from ultrasound. And magnetic resonance imaging (often called MRI) is safe to use after the first trimester of pregnancy. Both of these methods can be used sometimes instead of X-rays. Although ultrasound and MRI are used if possible, sometimes an X-ray is your doctor's best or only choice for properly treating you.

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Written by editorial staff.

Safety of Radiographic Imaging During Pregnancy by Kevin S. Toppenberg, M.D., D. Ashley Hill, M.D., and David P. Miller, M.S. (American Family Physician April 1, 1999,

Reviewed/Updated: 09/04
Created: 09/00

Copyright © 2000-2008 American Academy of Family Physicians
|This article provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this article applies to you and to get more information on this subject, talk to your family doctor.

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