Are CAT scans safe during pregnancy?

A CAT scan refers to an imaging procedure called a Computerized Axial Tomography scan.  This type of x-ray combines several images to produce 3-D images of internal organs and structures within the body.

CAT scans can be used on various parts of the body to asses a variety of problems.  The are used most often on the head, spine, chest and abdomen.  A CAT scan is generally considered a low-risk procedure.  The most common complaint involves adverse reactions to the dyes used to help the CAT scan see internal organs.  These reactions may include itching, a rash, or hives that should disappear quickly. CAT scans may be done without the use of dye, but interpreting results may be more difficult to do.

During pregnancy, CAT scans may expose the unborn baby to radiation.  Excessive exposure to radiation can lead to fetal development malformations or childhood cancers.  A CAT scan involves exposure to radiation at levels slightly higher than normal x-rays.  Overall, this risk is extremely low.  The amount of radiation involved in diagnostic procedures is well below the level proven to cause problems.  In general, the benefit of receiving an accurate diagnosis most often is more important than the limited risk associated with radiation exposure.  While abdominal CAT scans are generally not recommended for a pregnant woman, CAT scans of the head, spine or chest may create none or little risk to the baby.



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