I Had An X-ray Before Knowing I Was Pregnant (Is There A Need To Panic?)

A radiologic imaging procedure in pregnancy will not cause much harm to the developing fetus. An x-ray that does not expose your reproductive organ is considered safe. Even if it does expose your abdomen for a short period, it does not warrant unfounded concern for the pregnancy. Exposure to a direct x-ray beam at a high dose, however, does risk miscarriage in conception that is less than two weeks. But, such high-dose radiation is not generally used in x-ray and diagnostic imaging.

Diagnostic imaging in pregnancy

If you are pregnant and need to undergo necessary diagnostic imaging, it can become a worrisome event. This circumstance will give you an opportunity to talk to your healthcare provider.

The assurance that you will get can be enough to put you at ease. Your radiologic technician will also be able to exercise great care in exposing your reproductive system area.

For women who had their x-ray before even knowing they were pregnant, it can mean panic. Thankfully, there is no reason to fear since a single exposure with a diagnostic x-ray will not cause pregnancy complications.

According to the American Family Physician journal, the fetal risk is negligible at 5 rad (rad is the unit of measurement). Abdominal x-ray only accounts for only about 0.245 rad of fetal dose.

Reasons for having an x-ray

Whether you already know you are pregnant or not, there are instances where you might undergo the imaging procedure. And either way, there might be urgent reasons you cannot suspend taking the x-ray. Here are some of these pressing reasons:

Maternal health

You know that ultrasounds are an essential part of ensuring a healthy pregnancy. But sometimes, you will also face the necessity of an x-ray following an illness.

Moms may need immediate medical care that requires radiologic imaging to help doctors investigate the health issue. In any situation, the doctors will always consider the urgency of the mother’s treatment from the risk of radiation.

If you are subjected to an x-ray while pregnant, the radiologist will cover your belly with a lead apron. And if you only think or suspect that you are pregnant, you can raise this possibility with your doctor.

Again, the risk is negligible, but this is a protocol for x-ray imaging in pregnant women.


A woman dentist is reviewing a recent x-ray of her patients mouth

Some jobs expose women to a daily dose of radiation like dental and radiology technicians, researchers, manufacturers, or airport baggage screeners.

When the calculated fetal dose is below 0.1 rad (1 mGy), even pregnant women can continue to work in their respective departments. However, to reduce the risk, it will be better for them to temporarily be reassigned to different positions whenever possible.

Depending on the amount of radiation exposure, it may or may not harm the fetus at all. But moms who are exposed to x-ray on a daily basis are at risk for occupational cancer possibilities.

Parental duty

If you are a parent to a little child, there might be chances when you need a trip to the X-ray room. If you need to hold your child during the examination, ask the technician for a lead apron.

If possible, avoid holding your child while the x-ray is being done. It will be better to have another trusted adult to take your place and assist the child with this.

Possible side effects of x-ray

High dose and successive exposure to ionizing radiation like the x-ray increases the risk of cancer. It might cause temporary or permanent infertility when the reproductive organs are frequently exposed.

At high doses, radiation can also interfere with fetal gestation. The crucial and vulnerable part of pregnancy in x-ray exposure is at the 8th to 15th gestation weeks.

Again, we are talking about a high dose of around 10 to 20 rad. The potential side effects of x-ray at high doses are fetal malformation, cancer, and gene mutation.

Fetal malformation

Stunting of growth and damage to the central nervous system may occur in a fetus exposed to high-dose x-ray. Some children may be born with microcephaly or mental retardation.

At more than 10 rad, it may decrease the IQ of the developing baby.

Childhood malignancy or cancer

Infant leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood cells in babies. This rare condition is either caused by genetic mutation or high-dose radiation exposure.

An x-ray may slightly increase the risk of babies developing cancer later in life, but the possibility is small. The common cause of childhood malignancy is still hereditary and other developmental errors.

Gene mutation

When we think about pregnancy and x-ray exposure, we think about two things: cancer and mutation.

Radiation does increase the tendency of genetic mutation as it alters the DNA of the cells. But mutation is naturally occurring and will still affect the generation in the future.

As for x-ray, it is ionizing radiation, but it causes an insignificant effect on the cells within acceptable doses.


I am pregnant, is it okay to work with a photocopier?

It is a long-known myth, but according to research, photocopying machines do not emit radioactive radiation, only light energy. Thus, a photocopier does not pose harmful side effects to pregnant women.

Is there any less risky imaging procedure that I can take instead of an x-ray?

Depending on the subjected body parts, an ultrasound or MRI scan may be possible. Ask your doctor about the available scan and their associated risk to weigh your options.

Is dental x-ray safe in pregnancy?

Absolutely, yes. Dental x-rays have low-level radiation and do not expose your lower torso. However, you should expect your dentist to still cover your abdominal area with a lead apron.

It’s to be sure that your baby is protected from the radiation, no matter how small it can be.


There might be instances when a woman, unaware of her pregnancy, gets exposed to ionizing radiation as an x-ray. Then, it becomes an unfounded source of panic once she realizes that she is indeed pregnant. But a single x-ray exposure, as hazardous as it sounds, produces little and almost negligible effect on a fetus.

If you happen to experience a lower torso x-ray while pregnant, it is best to get assurance from your doctor. He will discuss the potential side effects based on the gestational period and the amount of radiation exposure.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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