Can I have an X-ray if I’m pregnant?

If possible, you should avoid having an X-ray while you’re pregnant.

Can my treatment wait?

Your healthcare professional will assess whether your treatment can wait until you’ve had your baby. For example, they'll assess whether the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks of having an X-ray.

They may also consider using another imaging method, such as an ultrasound scan.

What if I need a dental X-ray?

Make sure your dentist knows you're pregnant.

If you need a dental X-ray, your dentist will usually wait until you've had the baby, even though most dental X-rays don’t affect the abdomen or pelvic area.

How do X-rays work?

X-rays are short bursts of radiation that can pass through body tissue.

The level or dose of radiation used varies, depending on the type of X-ray and the equipment used. The dose that's used can also vary depending on the person’s size. In X-rays, the dose of radiation is measured in milligrays (mGy).

If your healthcare professional recommends an X-ray, the lowest possible dose of radiation will be used (see below).

What are the risks?

X-rays during pregnancy don't increase the risk of miscarriage, or cause problems in the unborn baby, such as birth defects and physical or mental development problems.

However, repeated exposure to radiation can damage the body's cells, which can increase the risk of cancer developing. This is why the dose of radiation used in an X-ray is always as low as possible.

X-rays during pregnancy carry a very small risk of exposing the unborn baby to radiation, which could cause cancer to develop during his or her childhood.

The natural risk of childhood cancer is around 1 in 500.

With low dose X-rays (below 10 mGy), the increased risk is very small (below 1 in 10,000). With higher dose X-rays (above 10 mGy), the increased risk is slightly higher, but remains low (mostly below 1 in 1,000).

With most X-rays, the dose that the unborn baby may receive is up to about 1 mGy.

During dental X-rays, lead aprons are no longer routinely used to protect the abdomen or pelvis, because most dental X-rays don't affect this area. Also, the dose of radiation in dental X-rays is so low that there's virtually no risk to the unborn baby.

However, in very rare cases, the angle of the X-ray beam needed to take a dental X-ray may affect the pelvic area. If you need a dental X-ray like this that can’t wait until you’ve had your baby, your dentist may cover your abdomen with a lead apron while the X-ray is carried out.

What if my pregnancy hasn’t been confirmed?

If you think you might be pregnant or you’re not sure, tell your healthcare professional. They will take this into account when assessing your treatment options.

Read more answers to questions about pregnancy and childbirth.

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Page last reviewed: 14/01/2012

Next review due: 14/01/2014