You've heard the hoopla about radiation and safety risks. And you've heard even more hoopla about risks of radiation while pregnant, such as babies being born with autism or having an increased risk of developing cancer.
So, if you're pregnant, and you find out that you may need a radiology test - an imaging test that allows providers to see inside your body and how it functions - it's natural to be a little hesitant.
The good news is that most tests are still safe during pregnancy.
Four of the most common imaging tests include:
- Ultrasounds use sound waves to see your organs and blood flow.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field, radio waves, and computer software to produce highly detailed images of organs and structures in your body.
- X-rays use a small dose of radiation, usually in the form of light or radio waves, to create black and white images of the inside of the body.
- Computed tomography (CT, or CAT scan) puts together X-rays taken from multiple angles to create more detailed 3D images.
Here are 5 things to know about having a radiology test while pregnant.
1. MRIs: You're Good to Go
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are known to be on the safer side. They don't use ionizing radiation and haven't been shown to harm a fetus.
However, it's still good to be cautious.
Even though MRIs are not considered risky, organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommend using them sparingly, and only when medically necessary. There's always the possibility that research could identify harmful effects in the future.
2. X-rays and CT Scans: You Might Be Good to Go
X-rays are the most commonly used imaging tests when someone is not pregnant. They can be used on their own or as part of a different radiology test, like a computed tomography (CT) scan or fluoroscopy, which is a type of medical imaging that uses continuous X-ray images - like an X-ray movie - so movement through the body can be seen in detail.
These tests have a variety of purposes, such as diagnosing broken bones, detecting tumors, or examining your brain, spinal cord, pelvis, abdomen, or chest after a severe trauma.
Here's the problem: CT Scans, X-rays, and tests that include X-rays all use ionizing radiation. Even though the amount of radiation in these tests is very small, and usually won't cause harm to a fetus, there are still some risks, such as birth defects.
X-rays carry some risk when you're pregnant, but the risk is actually pretty small. If you don't absolutely need it, then wait. Otherwise, weigh the risks: If you skip the X-ray, are you putting yourself and your baby at a greater risk than if you go ahead with it?
3. Your Health Comes First
Keeping your body healthy is vital during pregnancy - your health affects your baby's health.
That's why your provider may recommend tests involving X-rays even if you're pregnant.
When your health is in jeopardy, and ultrasounds or MRIs aren't enough or are unavailable, it's usually recommended that you get the test you need. Your provider will go over the pros and cons of getting the test.
It also depends on the part of your body that needs imaging. Parts that are far from the fetus, like your ankles or wrists, expose the fetus to less radiation than parts closer to your bump. Smaller body parts - like your toes or fingers - use less X-ray energy than larger body parts. If you need an X-ray on these parts of the body while pregnant, there is very little risk.
4. Tell the Provider and Technician That You're Pregnant
Once your provider knows you're pregnant, they may recommend holding off or getting a different test. Even if they give you the go-ahead, let the technician running the test know. They may have extra precautions they take for pregnant women, such as covering your belly with a lead apron to protect the fetus from radiation exposure.
It's just as important to tell your provider and technician if you might be pregnant. They may ask you to take a pregnancy test first to confirm. So, if you've been actively trying or showing signs of pregnancy - like nausea, vomiting, or breast tenderness - say something.
5. Breastfeeding Is Usually Fine
In general, radiology tests are safe while breastfeeding after pregnancy. Even if you take a contrast - a temporary dye used in certain imaging tests - the amount of contrast that gets passed to your baby in breast milk is extremely low, so it's not considered risky.
However, it's still a good idea to let your physician and the technician know if you're breastfeeding. They may have their own recommendations as to whether to hold off on the test or on the breastfeeding.
If you're ever unsure about the safety of a radiology test, don't hesitate to ask your OB/GYN or your primary care provider. They can help you decide on the path that's safest for both you and your baby.
Do you have questions for your OB/GYN? Call 610-431-5155 to schedule an appointment or for more information.
You will need a referral for most radiology tests. For more information about imaging tests, call 610-431-5130.