On Your Health

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Do You Need a Prenatal Screening?

28 February 2020

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Pregnancy is a time of great hope and anticipation, but it can also be a time of anxiety as some women worry their baby may have health problems.

For mothers who want details about their baby’s health or potential for health problems, prenatal screenings are an option. While most babies are born healthy, having access to screenings can help you prepare for possible complications.

“Screening tests help identify if a baby is more or less likely to have genetic disorders or certain birth defects, while diagnostic tests can confirm a diagnosis. Both types of tests are optional,” said Dr. Elsa Vadakekut of INTEGRIS Baptist Women’s Health.

“Genetic disorders are caused by abnormalities in one’s genes or chromosomes. Abnormalities can be from missing or extra chromosomes or inherited disorders such as sickle cell, cystic fibrosis, etc.,” Dr. Vadakekut says. “However, a prenatal screening only tells you if your baby is more or less likely to have abnormalities, it doesn’t confirm a diagnosis.”

When are tests performed?

Typically, the first screening will happen at the first prenatal visit when a patient’s risk factors are discussed. Risk factors can include genetics, family history, pre-existing conditions, ethnicity, age and more. 

Screening tests use maternal blood and ultrasound to assess the risk of having a child with aneuploidy (a condition in which there are missing or extra chromosomes) or neural tube defects (defects in the brain or spine). If results indicate an increased risk for a genetic disorder, you will then be referred for a diagnostic test to confirm the diagnosis.

During your second trimester, another prenatal screening using a blood test called the quad screen can be performed. This test measures levels of four specific substances in your blood that could indicate chromosomal conditions, such as Down syndrome. The test is also used to detect neural tube defects.

Should you have a prenatal screening?

“There is no right and wrong answer. Whether you have the test comes down to this: do you want to know if your baby will have abnormalities? Some people want to know this type of information beforehand and others do not,” Dr. Vadakekut says. “Expectant parents should think about how knowing the results of a test will affect them. Aneuploidy, inherited genetic conditions and other fetal abnormalities are often not typically treatable or preventable — they can just occur. Therefore, testing is mainly about how much information a parent desires to have.” 

While a normal result can be a relief and reduce anxiety, knowing the problems beforehand can help you prepare for the baby’s care in advance. In addition, these prenatal tests can alert your doctor to problems that can be treated during pregnancy or to problems that may require attention immediately after birth. 

The decision to have prenatal testing is up to you. If you're concerned about prenatal testing, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor at the INTEGRIS Women’s Center.