What to Know About X-Ray Exposure, Safety & Side Effects

are x-rays safe

While X-rays are technically classified as carcinogenic, or in other words capable of causing cancer, there is virtually universal agreement among healthcare experts that the benefits of X-rays as a diagnostic tool far outweigh the risks. Without X-rays, the only way to assess many kinds of injuries or illnesses would be with exploratory surgery, and any surgical procedure comes with risks of its own. One study by the American Journal of Clinical Oncology questions whether the proper use of X-ray imaging raises the risk of cancer at all.

Are X-rays Safe?

X-rays are a naturally occurring type of electromagnetic radiation. When they are used in medical imaging, a beam is directed at an area of the body and captured behind that area by a detector or film. An image is produced based on the differing amounts of radiation absorbed by the bone and tissue that the X-rays pass through.

Effects of X-ray Exposure is Carefully Studied

One of the reasons that X-ray imaging is considered safe is that the effects of X-ray exposure have been studied in detail. Imaging experts know exactly how much radiation is delivered in the many different imaging procedures, from chest X-rays to lumbar spine imaging to barium enemas. And, the procedures used to capture the images include safeguards that keep other areas of the body from being exposed to the X-rays.

X-rays and Pregnancy

One of the situations that understandably raises additional concerns about the safety of X-rays is their use during pregnancy. If you are trying to get pregnant, think you might be pregnant or are pregnant, it is important that you let your doctor know before you have an X-ray. You should also talk with your doctor if you had an X-ray before you knew you were pregnant.

X-ray imaging of the head, teeth, chest, arms, and legs won’t expose your reproductive organs or a fetus to radiation. For additional protection, a leaded apron and collar can be worn to block any scattered radiation. An abdominal X-ray will expose your baby to the imaging radiation. The risk of harm to your baby from an abdominal X-ray depends on the radiation dose and your baby’s gestational age. Your doctor can provide more details and help you understand the risks of the procedure versus its benefits.

Ultimately, X-ray imaging is a well-studied and safe process that greatly improves your doctor’s ability to provide effective care.

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