Apr 1, 1999 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

The Safety of X-rays During Pregnancy

Am Fam Physician. 1999 Apr 1;59(7):1820.

See related article on safety of radiographic imaging during pregnancy.

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 OK to have them. It's better for your baby that you be healthy. In fact, your medical problem may be more harmful to your baby than the x-rays.

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, especially leukemia, for an unborn baby. But the risk is very small.

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 sick and your doctor needs an x-ray to properly treat you, you should have the x-ray.

After I had an x-ray, I found out I was pregnant. 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.

Some women are so afraid of radiation that they want to have an abortion after a single x-ray. But this isn't necessary. The risks are so small, it's not necessary to have an abortion just because you had an x-ray during pregnancy.

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 such deformities. Even with no x-ray exposure, 4 to 6 percent of babies are born with some deformity. These are usually problems like skin tags or a small extra finger.

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

You might be able to have an ultrasound examination 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.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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