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1/1. The effect of embryonic and fetal exposure to x-ray, microwaves, and ultrasound: counseling the pregnant and nonpregnant patient about these risks.

    The term radiation evokes emotional responses both from lay persons and from professionals. Many spokespersons are unfamiliar with radiation biology or the quantitative nature of the risks. Frequently, microwave, ultrasound, and ionizing radiation risks are confused. Although it is impossible to prove no risk for any environmental hazard, it appears that exposure to microwave radiation below the maximal permissible levels present no measurable risk to the embryo. Ultrasound exposure from diagnostic ultrasonographic-imaging equipment also is quite innocuous. It is true that continued surveillance and research into potential risks of these low-level exposures should continue; however, at present ultrasound not only improves obstetric care, but also reduces the necessity of diagnostic x-ray procedures. In the field of ionizing radiation, we have a better comprehension of the biologic effects and the quantitative maximum risks than for any other environmental hazard. Although the animal and human data support the conclusion that no increases in the incidence of gross congenital malformations, IUGR, or abortion will occur with exposures less than 5 rad, that does not mean that there are definitely no risks to the embryo exposed to lower doses of radiation. Whether there exists a linear or exponential dose-response relationship or a threshold exposure for genetic, carcinogenic, cell-depleting, and life-shortening effects has not been determined. In establishing maximum permissible levels for the embryo at low exposures, refer to tables 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9. It is obvious that the risks of 1-rad (.10Gy) or 5-rad (.05Gy) acute exposure are far below the spontaneous risks of the developing embryo because 15% of human embryos abort, 2.7% to 3.0% of human embryos have major malformations, 4% have intrauterine growth retardation, and 8% to 10% have early- or late-stage onset genetic disease. The maximal risk attributed to a 1-rad exposure, approximately 0.003%, is thousands of times smaller than the spontaneous risks of malformations, abortion, or genetic disease. Thus, the present maximal permissible occupational exposures of 0.5 rem for pregnant women (see Table 10) and 5 rem for medical exposure, are extremely conservative. Medically indicated diagnostic roentgenograms are appropriate for pregnant women, and there is no medical justification for terminating a pregnancy in women exposed to 5 rad or less because of a radiation exposure.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
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