All x-rays involve exposure to radiation. X-rays that are used in modern diagnostic imaging use low levels of radiation that are considered to be safe.
The radiation exposure from an x-ray will vary with the type of scan and the size of the patient.
It is also important to remember that the risk of missing an important finding is almost always going to be larger than the theoretical risk from radiation from an x-ray. This is considered at the time your doctor has written your request form.
For more information regarding radiation and medical imaging, please see the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website.
X-rays During Pregnancy
We ask all women of child-bearing age if they may be pregnant before x-ray and nuclear medicine tests. If you are or think you may be pregnant, it is important you tell the radiographer. The technician or a radiologist will discuss the risks of the test and expected radiation dose as well as the benefits of the examination. There may be other options available to you, some of which may not require radiation.
In most cases, the examination can wait until after your baby is born. In some cases, such as with a serious illness, it is considered that the benefits outweigh the risks, and the examination must be done.
Some low dose x-ray procedures can be done during pregnancy when they are looking at anatomy that is not near the abdomen, e.g. hand/wrist or ankle x-rays. These may be done with little to no risk to the foetus during pregnancy. However, x-rays directly on the abdomen expose the foetus to a relatively higher dose. If possible, avoid x-rays to the abdomen during pregnancy.
If an x-ray is necessary, the technician can further limit the dose to the foetus by using lead aprons, reducing exposure factors and limiting the number of x-rays taken.
Radiation if Trying to Become Pregnant
Pre-conception exposure to radiation has not been shown to increase cancer or abnormalities in children.
If a woman’s period is late and she is sexually active, it should be assumed she is pregnant until a pregnancy test is performed.
If a woman is uncertain if she is pregnant, she is sexually active, but her period is not overdue, it is considered safe to proceed with a low dose (<10mGy) examination without a pregnancy test.
Radiation if Breastfeeding
It is safe to continue breastfeeding after an x-ray procedure, CT or MRI, including if you have been given contrast. Some radiopharmaceuticals can enter breast milk in nuclear medicine exams. It is advised that mothers having some nuclear medicine tests suspend breastfeeding in favour of expressed milk or formula in the short period during and after the test. There is further details provided under the relevant nuclear medicine tests.
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