Diagnostic imaging is an extraordinary thing. It provides a window into the unknown within the body – breaking down physical barriers and providing valuable information about perplexing medical conditions.
In the case of pregnant women, it offers that first exciting glimpse of their unborn child.
But with every medical advance comes a balancing of risk versus reward, and in recent years there has been an increased awareness of the potential dangers of ionizing radiation. It should be stated that each and every one of us are exposed to a certain level of radiation in our everyday lives because radioactivity is in the air we breathe, in the walls and floors of our homes, and even in the foods and drinks we consume.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Obstetric Practice has established a good rule of thumb when it comes to radiation exposure for pregnant women: diagnostic imaging should be used sparingly, and only when it is expected to answer a relevant clinical question or provide medical benefit to the patient. Because a pregnant woman’s health affects the health of her baby, if your physician or radiologist feels that medical imaging will elevate your care – you may want to heed their expert advice.
Medical imaging exams are generally safe during pregnancy, and your doctor will typically steer clear of the diagnostic tools that rely on ionizing radiation (X-rays, CT scans) whenever possible. The radiation emitted by X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and other nuclear imaging is known as “ionizing” radiation; these high-energy wavelengths and particles penetrate tissue to reveal the body’s internal structures. In certain amounts, they can damage the DNA, contributing to certain forms of cancer in the long-term.
Ultrasound and MRI
Ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are the preferred imaging tools for pregnant women, as they pose no known threats to the fetus.
The US Department of Health and Human Services stands behind the safety record of ultrasound imaging for expectant mothers.
Ultrasound has been used for more than 20 years, allowing new mothers to view the fetus during pregnancy, and physicians to monitor the health of both mother and child during this transitional period. It also presents many other benefits, including the ability to view and hear the heartbeat of the child, and to capture images to share with friends and family members.
In addition, major advancements have been made in fetal ultrasound imaging. The introduction of 3D ultrasound has made it possible to view an unborn child’s facial features, and 4D ultrasound technology has advanced these capabilities even further.
In the case of emergencies or traumatic injury, ER doctors and physicians are often faced with the difficult dilemma of whether to perform diagnostic imaging on pregnant women. However, plain radiographs (X-rays) of the extremities and cervical spine only expose the fetus to minuscule doses of radiation. The exposure can also be controlled or minimized by reducing the voltage and current, limiting the scanned areas, and through several other methods.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, an organization which promotes pregnancy wellness, X-rays and other forms of ionizing radiation should only be performed on pregnant women when the rewards of the procedure outweigh the risks.
You play an important role in radiation safety. Always inform your physician if you’re pregnant or think that you may be with child and keep an accurate record of your imaging test history.
For more than 30 years, Independent Imaging has been a trusted provider of diagnostic imaging services for both adults and children. Their educated and compassionate board-certified radiologists perform a variety of imaging tests from ultrasounds to MRIs that are able to produce high-definition images to accurately diagnose injuries and disease. For more information, call (561) 795-5558.