Issues to consider

Before undergoing prenatal testing, think about what it can do for you. Many women choose to undergo basic ultrasounds and blood tests. But not all do. Most women don't undergo the more detailed diagnostic tests because most pregnancies don't carry a high risk of complications.

Before scheduling a prenatal test, you and your partner may wish to consider these questions:

• What will you do with the information once you have it? How will it affect decisions regarding your pregnancy?

Most results from prenatal testing come back normal, which can help ease your anxiety. If a test indicates that your baby may have a birth defect or another health condition, how will you handle it? You may be faced with decisions you never expected to have to make, such as whether to continue the pregnancy. On the other hand, knowing about a problem ahead of time may give you the option of planning for your baby's care in advance.

• Will the information help your health care provider to provide better care or treatment during pregnancy or delivery?

At times, prenatal testing can provide information that affects your care. Testing may uncover a problem with the baby that health care providers can treat while you're pregnant. It may alert health care providers to a problem that requires a specialist to be on hand to treat your baby right after he or she is born.

• How accurate are the results of the test?

Prenatal tests aren't perfect. Even if the result of a screening test is negative — meaning that your fetus is at low risk of having a certain condition — there's still a small chance that the condition is present. If this is the case, the initial results are a false-negative. Even if a screening test has a positive result, placing you in a higher-risk group, it's possible, or even likely, that no disease exists. This result is called a false-positive. The proportion of false-negative and false-positive results varies from test to test, as noted in the following information on each individual test.

• Will undergoing a test be worth the anxiety it may cause?

Screening tests identify women at risk of certain conditions. Even if a test indicates a risk, the majority of women won't have an affected baby. Thus, a screening test may cause anxiety unnecessarily.

• What are the risks of the procedure?

You may want to weigh the risks of the test — such as pain, worry or possible miscarriage — against the value of learning the information.

• How much does the test cost? Is it covered by your insurance company? Tests that aren't medically necessary usually aren't covered by insurance. In some cases, a social worker or genetic counselor may help you get information about financial assistance, if necessary. If financial help isn't available, are you willing and able to cover the cost of the test?

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