Answer to Question #11937 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:

Q

I am a health care professional and worked in a hospital throughout my pregnancy on an internal medicine floor. I was in intermittent close contact with patients who underwent a variety of diagnostic and treatment procedures, including x rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, ventilation/perfusion (V/Q) scans, bone scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), fluoroscopy, cardiac catheterizations, and occasionally nuclear stress tests. I did not handle body fluids, and I don't believe any of my patients had positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

No one ever advised me to take precautions around such patients or wear a radiation dosimeter, and none of my pregnant colleagues wore dosimeters either. Now I'm very worried that I inadvertently put my unborn child at risk of radiation exposure from my patients. Do you think I should be concerned?

A

I do not think you need to be concerned, and here's why.

We can rule out radiation exposure from MRI or ultrasound because these do not expose the patient or you to ionizing radiation (like x rays can).

We can also rule out radiation exposure from any of the exams to which your patients were exposed that used only x rays (x rays, CT scans, fluoroscopy, cardiac catheterizations) because the patient is not radioactive after these tests. The patient is exposed to get the image, and there is no radiation in the patient after the test is done.

That leaves only the nuclear medicine tests (V/Q scans, bone scans, stress tests, etc.). While there is a possibility you might have received some exposure from being around these patients, your exposure would be minimal, if any, and your unborn child would be even less likely because your abdominal tissue would protect it.

Workers who are intermittently around these patients often are not badged because they are not expected (based on historical radiation exposure records) to get more than 1 millisievert (mSv) per year. For reference, the radiation exposure you received from natural background radiation annually is just over 3 mSv.

Another reason why I do not think you need to be concerned are the radiation doses where I work. We do over 60,000 nuclear medicine procedures each year. We have about 58 nuclear medicine technologists, and their average dose is less than 1 mSv per year. They are close to the patients and handle the radioactive materials, and still they do not get much of a radiation dose.

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 17 April 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.