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Diagnostic Imaging Use During Pregnancy

Imaging studies are important tools for diagnosing and monitoring certain medical conditions. This holds true also during pregnancy when acute conditions arise and chronic medical issues are exacerbated or monitored.

As a pediatric radiologist, I’m often asked by doctors and patients about the use of radiation for imaging studies in pregnant patients and its effect on the fetus. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound have no ionizing radiation and are the imaging modalities preferred for use in pregnant patients. However, MRI and ultrasound may not be available especially in the acute setting or suboptimal for answering certain clinical questions. In those settings, your healthcare provider should weigh the risks and benefits of radiation exposure. They may even consult with the radiologist to determine the best study. Although large doses of radiation can have negative effects on the developing fetus, exposure from most imaging studies (i.e. X-rays, CT, nuclear medicine) are well below the threshold for fetal harm.

Communication is Key

If you think there’s any chance you may be pregnant, let your physician or the technologist performing your imaging study know. This way the study can be modified or alternative studies can be considered. It is also not unusual for a pregnant test to be performed prior to any imaging study being done.

If you know you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, don’t be afraid to ask how imaging tests can impact the health of your baby. Physicians tend to be understandably cautious when treating pregnant women and typically opt for more conservative approaches as the health of both the mother and baby are of the highest priority.

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