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Pregnant, took X-Ray, harmful effects of radiation on fetus

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General & Family Physician
Practicing since : 2005
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My wife got pregnant and before she knew about it she had a medical checkup where she received x-rays. She is worried and wants to know if she has anything to worry about for the baby s health. So here are some detailed information about my wife s pregnancy and the checkup Her last period came on March 2nd. Her period cycle is about 30--33 days. So her ovulating day might have been March 18th, 19th, 20th or 21st (woman ovulate 14 days before the next period comes. Assume her period this month came on Apr 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th ) She had the barium meal radiography on Apr 7th. She was on the machine with three positions. First, standing on her feet. Then she lied on her back as the machine moved under the operator s control. Last she moved herself and lay on her face. Roughly, the course lasted around 2 and a half minutes. I ve checked online and several sites answered this question and they all seem to agree that there is a such a small chance that she shouldn t worry about any it. It all depends on how much radiation she got and I m not sure how much she received. I m hoping someone might have a rough idea. Does she have anything to worry about and how much radiation might she have been exposed to? Thanks in advance for any insight into this matter you can provide.
Posted Sat, 28 Apr 2012 in Pregnancy
Answered by Dr. Prasad 12 hours later

Thanks for your query.

Before I continue to answer, let me first tell you though the risks to fetus due to the accidental Xray exposure exists, the risk is very small one.

X XXXXXXX (ionising radiation) used for diagnostic purpose measure the amount of radiation in terms of millisievert. The amount of radiation used depends on the region filmed. Since you report that your wife underwent barium meal, meaning intestines/abdomen was filmed.

The amount of radiation used for abdomen X ray's is around 4 to 8 millisievert. Though I am not sure what the exact amount your wife was exposed to, considering she had maximum exposure that is 8 millisievert which is equal to 0.8 rads. Three exposures of 0.8 rads of radiation is not that large, as it takes about 5 rads of radiation exposure for a serious fetal defects to occur.

Hence the chance of fetal defects is less. Having said that, I strongly recommend anomaly scan done at around 12 weeks of pregnancy. This will clear all the doubts beyond doubt. Further steps of management will be decided based on the anomaly scan.

I hope I have answered your query adequately. I will be available to answer your follow up questions too.

Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Pregnant, took X-Ray, harmful effects of radiation on fetus 1 hour later
My wife is in China and while we're trying to get her here to the US, we're apart. She consulted doctors in China and they advised her to get an abortion. I felt this was outrageous and I wanted to get her more facts, information, and opinions to help her not be so worried and to keep our baby.

I asked my wife to get more information from the person who gave her the x-ray. She wrote to me the following:

This afternoon, I went to the doctor who works in the barium meal room. He didn't know how much exactly radiation they gave me because they've never calculated that. But I asked some detailed information. He said, that day since so many people from my company went for the checkup, the barium meal exam for each person lasted around 1 minute from entering the room to that person was done checking. Scanned three parts of the body of each person with three positions. Before I entered the room, I had a small cup of barium meal and kept a little in my mouth. After I stood on the machine and the operator let me swallow the amount in my mouth in order to scan my esophagus and lungs. Then I lied on my back as the machine moved itself under the operator's control to check my stomach from front side. At last, I moved and lay on my face and had my stomach checked from back side.

He said, everyone got scanned around 30 seconds totally in the course ruled out the time you were walked to the machine, changed positions and walked out the room . For other operators which worked more carefully and slowly, it took around 40 seconds. I don't think I was in the room 1 minute, I guess it was about 2 minutes. But, Totally, I guess I was scanned 40 seconds or so. I wonder how much radiation I got totally with getting scanned three parts of my body with three positions. I calculated that roughly according to the information you gave to me, I might have got 1 rad or less.

Based on your answer and her additional details, I think you would still say the same thing, is that correct? I've done some research myself online and I also did a 15 minute chat with another doctor on this website and you all are saying the same thing, which is good. Thanks so much for your time.
Answered by Dr. Prasad 2 hours later
Hi again,

Yes, I do stick to the same fact that she is safe , no matter how long she had to stay in the xray room as the xrays are let in a controlled manner like clicking a photograph, the exposure is the same universally.As your wife mentions it could not be more than 1 rad in any case of such an investigation.

Thanks for consulting us,Wish her a good health and future.

Above answer was peer-reviewed by
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