If your doctor recommends an MRI during a pregnancy, your immediate reaction might be to worry; will the examination put your baby at risk?
It’s a common concern, and not unreasonable by any means. Doctors generally try to avoid all medical procedures, including diagnostic imaging, until a mother delivers her baby. However, if your physician recommends an MRI during your pregnancy, it’s important to get the examination.
The simple answer is that MRI technology is considered safe during pregnancies. First, to dispel a common myth: MRI scans don’t use X-rays or radiation, which are carcinogenic at high doses (we should note that most X-ray examinations use low doses of radiation, so the cancer risk is still minimal during those tests). They use magnetic energy, which doesn’t appear to affect developing fetuses in any way.
One study tracked 1.4 million pregnancies, including more than 5,000 women who’d had MRIs during their pregnancies. Congenital abnormalities weren’t any higher for women who’d received MRIs than women who hadn’t received the examinations.
However, your radiologist will need to know about your pregnancy in order to keep the exam as safe as possible. Here’s why.
Are MRI Contrast Dyes Safe for Fetuses?
Some MRIs examinations use contrast agents, which can result in a better diagnostic image. Contrast agents are chemical dyes, and pregnant patients often worry that these chemicals will affect their fetuses. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to collect data about these agents due to ethical considerations, but several studies have provided some insight for radiology professionals.
There are two main types of MRI contrast dyes: gadolinium and iodinated agents. Gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) may accumulate in amniotic fluid. As a result, some physicians recommend that their pregnant patients avoid these dyes if alternatives are available. For instance, if a patient can simply take additional MRI images without any dyes, this may be the safest course of action.
That isn’t always possible, however, but the good news is that GBCAs probably don’t present a significant risk. A 2006 study by Facundo Garcia-Bournissen, et. al, noted that current evidence suggests that gadolinium MRI dyes are very safe, as there’s no clear indication that these dyes cause birth defects or health difficulties for either the mother or the fetus.
What about iodinated contrast dyes? A study from the Contrast Media Safety Committee of European Society of Urogenital Radiology suggests that “free iodide in radiographic contrast medium given to the mother has the potential to depress fetal/neonatal thyroid function,” and recommends gadolinium-based dyes as an alternative. Essentially, there’s a concern that iodinated dyes could cause hypothyroidism, a serious congenital abnormality.
Given the available data, GBCAs are a better choice for expecting mothers, although you should talk over the procedure with a qualified radiologist to understand your options. Note that neither dye is considered to be a serious issue for breastfeeding mothers.
The Bottom Line: MRIs are Safe For Pregnant Women, But Talk To Your Doctor
You’ll definitely want to find an MRI clinic that has new, powerful equipment in order to avoid dyes where possible, and you should inform your radiologist that you’re pregnant before you arrive at the facility. MRI technology is completely safe, and even if you require an MRI with contrast agents, your facility should be able to perform the examination safely.
BestpriceMRI.com carefully analyzes the capabilities of every MRI clinic in our database, and our cost comparison tool can greatly limit the cost of an MRI during a pregnancy—even if you don’t have insurance. To get started, call bestpriceMRI.com at 888-322-7785.
Bakalar, Nicholas. “Regular M.R.I. Is Safe During Pregnancy.” NYTimes. The New York Times Company, 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
Garcia-Bournissen, Alon Shrim and Gideon Koren. “Safety of gadolinium during pregnancy.” NCBI. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 10 March 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
Webb JA, HS Thomsen and SK Morcos. “The use of iodinated and gadolinium contrast media during pregnancy and lactation.” NCBI. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 15 June 2005. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.