Is it safe to have an X-ray when pregnant?

Expert advice on the risks of having an X-ray during pregnancy and what you need to know if you've had one before knowing you're expecting a baby

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In a nutshell

If possible, avoid 

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The expert view

Having an x-ray when you’re pregnant can be a real worry, and our GP Dr Philippa Kaye says it’s crucial to always tell doctors you are pregnant.

“If you need to have an x-ray while you are pregnant, the radiographer may cover your tummy with a lead apron to try and protect the baby from the x-rays – though doses are small and are generally thought to be fine in pregnancy,” she reassures.

The general current NHS advice is ‘if possible, you should avoid having an X-ray while you’re pregnant’ – but obviously if that is not possible, your doctors (or dentist) will discuss your case with you, and decide whether the benefit of the treatment outweighs the risk posed by the x-ray.  

What are the risks of x-rays?

There is no risk or miscarriage or a heightened risk of birth defects from X-rays during pregnancy, but there is a worry that  repeated exposure to radiation from the procedure can increase the risk of cancer.

You may have heard about increased risks of cancer or leukaemia in children whose mums had an x-ray when they were pregnant. This stems from research that appeared in the British Medical Journal in 2011 from the UK Childhood Cancer Study. The study concluded that the increased risk was “not statistically significant”.

The NHS says that  the doses of radiation used during an X-ray aren’t thought to pose a risk to an unborn baby, but even so, they do not recommend those which directly target the womb (abdominal X-rays) unless there’s a really strong reason to do so. 

What if I’ve just found out I’m pregnant but recently had an x-ray?

Don’t panic! Even the most powerful types of X-rays, such as a barium enema, aren’t thought to have any adverse effects on the outcome of a pregnancy.

Mums on our forum say

“I had an x-ray on my arm before I knew I was pregnant (would have been 4-5 weeks at that point!) – and when I asked about this all the doctors were really relaxed and said as it was pointing at my arm and is low level radiation then it’s fine – and scan was ok.” Apple-pie-73

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“I have been put on Amoxillin after being told I have an abscess under a back tooth. I am 34 weeks pregnant and have been really worried regarding this as I had to have an x-ray and also have to have the tooth taken out. I had phoned around and finally got someone in Delivery to answer whether or not an x-ray was safe in pregnancy, which I was told was fine and not to worry.” Caz3041

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