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In-Flight Radiation Exposure During Pregnancy

Barish, Robert J., PhD

doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000126947.90065.90
Current Commentary

During high-altitude flight, the cosmic radiation dose rate in an airliner is greater than it is at ground level. For a casual traveler, the impact on pregnancy from cosmic radiation exposure during flight is trivial. Pregnant frequent flyers, pilots, and flight attendants can, however, receive exposures that exceed current recommended values if they do not appropriately modify their work schedules. In addition to the galactic cosmic-ray background that is the source of this radiation, severe disturbances on the sun may cause eruptions that significantly raise radiation levels at airliner altitudes for brief periods, possibly having an impact even on casual travelers. This article will help obstetrician–gynecologists provide advice to their pregnant patients about in-flight radiation risks. That advice should be influenced by an understanding of recommended radiation exposure limits and a perspective on how those limits relate to the potential for real harm. Resources provided by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and others to help pregnant women and their physicians make informed decisions about the acceptability of this type of exposure are described.

Guidance is provided for answering questions from pregnant flight crew members and casual travelers about exposure to cosmic radiation during air travel.

The Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute, New York, New York

Address reprint requests to: Robert J. Barish, PhD, 211 East 70th Street, Apartment 12G, New York, NY 10021; e-mail:

Received December 30, 2003. Received in revised form February 6, 2004. Accepted March 11, 2004.

© 2004 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.