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Prenatal screening can aid mothers-to-be

But there can be risks

March 4, 1996
Web posted at: 5:07 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Pregnant women face a variety of options for prenatal screening, some harmless and others potentially dangerous.

fernhoff

The tests, usually offered as the woman enters her fourth month of pregnancy, may help determine the health of the unborn baby, said Dr. Paul Fernhoff at the Emory Genetics Laboratory in Atlanta. (213K AIFF sound or 213K WAV sound)

An inexpensive screening test offered to almost all women is known as the double or triple screen -- a combination of safe, simple blood tests that look for defects such as Down Syndrome, a genetic, chromosomal disorder.

korotkin

"Those tests can pick up about 60 percent of kids that will have a chromosomal abnormality," said Dr. Jeffrey Korotkin of Atlanta's Northside Hospital. For neural tube defects such as spina bifida, the detection rate is about 70 percent.

But women should be aware that the double or triple screen may produce inaccurate readings, Korotkin advised. It could be a 'false positive,' a false indication that there's a defect. Or it could be a 'false negative,' a case where a woman has normal screening results but still gives birth to a child with an abnormality.

The ultrasound exam is another safe method that may uncover birth defects. Using soundwaves to create a picture of the fetus, an ultrasound checks age and growth rate. Movement, breathing and heart rate are also monitored.

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For women over 35 or those with suspicious test results, amniocentesis may be suggested as a way to detect the presence of birth defects or disease. To do the test, doctors insert a needle through the abdominal wall into the uterus and extract amniotic fluid, which is then analyzed.

But doctors warn that there's a 1-in-200 chance that the test can cause a miscarriage. It is recommended for women over 35, because they are more likely than younger women to bear a child with birth defects.

There are other prenatal diagnostic tests used less often. Doctors will recommend the appropriate one after considering a woman's age and medical history.

According to Korotkin, gathering information and asking questions is one of the most important safeguards for future parents.

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