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CT Scans of Pregnant Women Increasing
Date:3/17/2009

But danger to fetus from radiation is slight, experts say,,,,

TUESDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- Although more pregnant women are getting all types of medical imaging, the number of those getting CT scans has more than doubled over 10 years, Brown University researchers report.

CT exams are not routinely done for pregnant women, but, in some cases, it may be the only way to diagnose life-threatening conditions such as bleeding in the brain, blood clots in the lungs or appendicitis. CT scans expose the fetus to higher levels of radiation than other methods, causing concern that CT scans could harm the developing baby.

"At our institution, utilization of radiological imaging in pregnant women increased 107 percent, comparing 1997 to 2006," said lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Lazarus, an assistant professor of diagnostic imaging and a radiologist at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. "The rate of increase was highest for computed tomography (CT)."

Lazarus acknowledged that many people worry that the radiation used in these scans might harm the fetus. However, women need not be overly concerned, she added.

"First of all, it should be stated that radiological imaging is safe during pregnancy and is often used to diagnose potentially life-threatening medical problems," Lazarus said. "The risk of direct radiation to the fetus during pregnancy is a very slight increase in childhood malignancy."

The point of the study is to raise awareness about the increase of imaging in pregnant patients and to possibly encourage the development of protocols that minimize radiation exposure, Lazarus said. For example, MRIs and ultrasound do not expose the patient or fetus to ionizing radiation, she noted.

The report is published in the March 17 online edition of Radiology.

For the study, Lazarus' team looked at the trend in pregnant women undergoing CT, fluoroscopy and plain-film X-ray im
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