Learning About the Four Most Common Prenatal Tests
Creating a child is a miracle. It's also inherently risky. At one time, pregnancy was a major cause of death among young women. But thanks to medical advances and our health care system, maternal mortality has decreased significantly in almost every country since 1930. Statistically, the risks are greatest for women younger than 20 and over age 30. But for any woman, proper prenatal care is the key to a healthy pregnancy.
Over the course of a pregnancy, a number of tests are sometimes used to ensure the health of the unborn child. Here are the four most common prenatal tests:
1. Sonogram / Ultrasound - This is a painless procedure that uses sound waves to create a visual image of the fetus. It is done to date a pregnancy, confirm multiple fetuses, evaluate fetal well-being, and verify position of the placenta. Usually, this test is done at 16 weeks of the pregnancy, and sometimes later.
2. Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) - This involves the collection (through the vagina or the abdomen) of placental cells. It is done to screen for a variety of birth defects. If required, this test is done at 10 to 12 weeks of the pregnancy.
3. Amniocentesis - This involves the insertion of a needle through the abdominal wall and into the uterus for sampling of amniotic fluid. It is done to screen for genetic disorders, such as Down's syndrome, and neural-tube defects when risk is indicated (the mother is over 35, there is a family history of genetic defects, birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities, or there was an abnormal triple-screen test). If required, this test is done at 14 to 18 weeks of the pregnancy (or possibly later).
4. Triple screen - This is a simple blood test to measure levels of three hormones whose high levels might indicate problems. This test is done to reveal the risk of having a child with either a chromosomal disorder (such as Down's syndrome) or a neural-tube or an abdominal defect.
To reduce the risk of neural-tube defects in children, all women of child-bearing age should make sure their diet contains adequate folic acid. A fetus's spine and spinal cord are formed in the first four weeks of pregnancy, and women at risk of becoming pregnant should drink plenty of orange juice and eat ample amounts of dried beans, soybeans, raw broccoli, spinach, and whole-wheat bread (or take folic acid supplements), even if they aren't currently planning a pregnancy; accidents happen, and the neural tube is already developed by the time most women realize they are pregnant.
Even before a woman gets pregnant, she should visit her obstetrician-gynecologist to discuss any unique risks that pregnancy might pose. The doctor will want to discuss her and her partner's medical and family histories, nutritional habits, any drug or environmental exposures, and other issues that could affect the pregnancy, including medications the woman may be taking.
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