Answer to Question #1149 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation — Radiation workers/medical technicians

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I am an operating-room nurse. I am pregnant and am concerned about the exposure to x rays, as we do many. I am shielded, but is that enough? Also, does it matter how many weeks pregnant I am?


Well first, congratulations are in order! Being pregnant in the workplace certainly increases our awareness of what hazards might exist. In your case, it sounds like you're exposed to some of the x rays that might be taken during surgical cases. You didn't say whether you wore a radiation badge or not. I'll assume not so we'll make some assumptions about the amount of exposure you might be receiving.

Before we go any further, though, we're going to use 5 millisieverts (mSv) as our comparison number as this is the typical radiation exposure limit for the fetus of a pregnant radiation worker (mSv is a unit of effective radiation dose). Your lead apron is one of the best defenses against radiation exposure. It will stop about 95% of the x rays. The tissue in your abdomen also offers some protection for the fetus. Another method of protection that can significantly reduce your exposure is to move farther away from the point where the x-ray beam is interacting with the patient. This doesn't mean you have to move away from the table (but do so if you can), you can move up or down the length of the table and still increase your distance without getting too far from the patient. There is a general rule of thumb that says if you're about 30 centimeters (cm) away from where the beam enters the patient, you receive about 1% of the dose the patient receives; if you're about 1 meter (m) away, it decreases to about 0.1%. Decreasing time is another way to reduce exposure but I'm guessing you might not have much control over that. Let's use an example. If a standard abdominal film is being taken (patient exposure is about 0.6 mSv; a pelvis film is similar but extremity x rays are much less), and you're standing about 30 cm away and wearing a lead apron (the 30 cm distance reduces your dose by 99% and the lead apron reduces that by another 95%), your body under the apron would receive less than 1/100th of a mSv. Use the apron and distance to your advantage. By doing so, you'll keep the baby's and your exposure well below any limits.

Kelly Classic
Certified Medical Health Physicist

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 8 February 2017. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.