Prenatal testing: identify health problems that can endanger your baby
Prenatal testing has become the need of the hour for pregnant women across the globe. Read on to know how the ultrasounds and blood tests can help you.
Every mum-to-be hopes for a healthy baby. That’s why pregnancy can be a time of great anxiety and anticipation for her. She may ask herself, “What if the baby has a serious illness? How will I deal with it? Can the problem prevail all his life?”
These concerns are completely natural. Fortunately, through prenatal testing, a mother can now identify health problems that can endanger her and her baby.
How does prenatal testing work?
Prenatal testing is a set of tests conducted to identify possible health hazards to a woman and her unborn baby. It helps to identify genetic diseases or birth defects, thus, enabling a mother-to-be to make informed decisions about the pregnancy.
Purpose of prenatal testing
Prenatal testing is usually done in the first, third and fifth months and determines different factors regarding the mother’s and developing child’s health and development.
In a mother, prenatal testing identifies the following:
- Blood group
- Urine levels for sugar, protein or any type of infection
- Health problems like gestational diabetes and anemia, among others
- Possibility of cervical cancer or sexually transmitted diseases
In a developing child, prenatal testing identifies the following:
- Health problems that can be treated
- Characteristics of the developing baby including sex, size and placement in the uterus
- Birth defects or genetic problems
- Foetal abnormalities
Continue reading to know the various types of prenatal testing
Types of prenatal testing
There are two types of prenatal testing that ascertain possibility and determination of a health problem.
- Screening tests: The woman is simply screened to identify if there is a possibility of a health hazard. These tests include blood tests and scans and do not ascertain the problem but hint at it.
- Diagnostic tests: These tests that include amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), take cells directly from the uterus. Such tests can determine if a foetus has any health hazards. In order to be certain, experts begin with a screening test followed by the diagnostic tests.
Routine Prenatal Testing
The routine prenatal testing are usually taken during the first, third and the fifth months of pregnancy. During these tests, your OB-GYN will take your urine and blood samples to determine the detection of the following health problems:
HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases
Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is a viral disease that leads to AIDS. It is contracted through unprotected sex or by using the syringe of an infected person. It is also caused by coming in contact with liquid secretion of the infected person like semen or saliva.
Effects: HIV weakens the body’s ability to fight infectious diseases.
Precautions: This disease is less likely to be passed from mother-to-child during pregnancy, if the mother takes Antiretroviral therapy (ART) medicines. The ART medicine is consumed orally and pregnant women must ideally start the dose before pregnancy. However, if they haven’t, then they should do so during the first trimester if high viral load is detected in them.
This condition develops in a one’s body because of lack of adequate healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Fatigue is the primary symptom of anemia because adequate blood requirement of all organs is not met. Women are particularly susceptible to this problem because of loss of blood during menstrual cycles.
Effects: Anemia leads to gastrointestinal problems like ulcers, inflammation of stomach and even cancer.
Precautions: For this condition to be controlled, pregnant women are advised to take iron supplements.
This is a life-long disease that affects the body’s ability to handle blood sugar. In other words, people with diabetes are unable to generate insulin in their body.
Insulin moves the sugar (consumed) into the blood stream and uses it as energy. If your body is not making insulin, then this action does not take place and the body stores excess sugar.
Effects: All the extra sugar in the body harms the blood vessels and can also lead to kidney problems, liver infections, gangrene, heart diseases, high blood pressure, skin and eye infections and gum diseases.
Precautions: In order to protect oneself from diabetes, the intake of sugar should be lowered. Mums-to-be should stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
Continue reading to know about other health problems prenatal testing can detect
This is a temporary problem seen in pregnant women. Here, when you get pregnant, the hormonal changes in your body make your cell less responsive to insulin. For most mums-to-be the pancreas secretes additional insulin. But if the pancreas are unable to secrete insulin, then it may lead to gestational diabetes.
To understand if you are going through gestational diabetes, you have to undergo glucose-screening test between week 24 to 28.
If you do not know whether or not you have this condition, find out if there is a family history of diabetes. Or if you are obese, have high blood pressure, or are over 35 years of age.
Effects: It may lead to gestational diabetes during another pregnancy and there is a likely chance that it would lead to diabetes in the future.
Precautions: Experts suggest that if you have gestational diabetes, you must eat a balanced and healthy diet, exercise daily and religiously take medicines, if recommended.
This disease is characterized by a viral infection of the liver. A pregnant woman infected with Hepatitis B is most likely to pass it on to the baby during delivery.
Effects: It can gravely affect the liver of the newborn and can become chronic.
Precautions: Most pregnant women are advised pre-pregnancy vaccinations for Hepatitis B. This prevents the infection from being passed on from mother to child.
It is a condition often seen in pregnant women and is characterized by high blood pressure and high protein level in the urine. This condition usually occurs during the second half of the pregnancy, but it can occur earlier if there is a family history of obesity or high blood pressure.
Effects: Preeclampsia leads to swollen feet, legs and hands (in a pregnant woman). It can also cause lack of nutrition and decreased blood flow to the uterus.
Precautions: Pregnant women suffering from this problem are advised to take bed rest and may be injected with magnesium.
A pregnant woman may also undergo a pap smear test. The pap test uses cell samples from a woman’s cervix or vaginal area using a speculum. It tests cell changes in the vaginal area to detect cancer and is usually done during a pelvic exam. This test can also show if there is any infection in the vaginal area or inflammation due to use of diaphragm during sex.
Effects: Pap smear helps to diagnose cancerous diseases.
Precautions: In case a pap smear detects any problem, which means the cells are abnormal, then a pregnant woman must consult with her doctor on how to deal with the problem at the earliest.
Continue reading to know about non-routine prenatal testing and what you must ask your OB-GYN
For high-risk pregnancy cases, non-routine tests such as genetic tests are recommended. Women who are considered to have a high-risk pregnancy such as the following are recommended such tests:
- Adolescent girls
- Women above the age of 35
- Women who have had premature babies
- Women who have delivered babies with birth defects
- Women who are carrying twins
- Women who are suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart diseases, kidney problems, lupus, asthma or lung infections among others
- Women who have a family history of diseases and psychological problems
- Women whose partners and their family medical history indicates health or psychological problems
If a pregnant woman falls under any of these categories, her OB-GYN would recommend prenatal testing for her. However, it is up to the mum-to-be to decide whether she will take the tests or skip these altogether.
Questions to ask the OB-GYN during prenatal testing
Should a pregnant woman decide to go ahead with prenatal testing, it is recommended that she ask her OB-GYN these important questions:
- Why should I take the tests (especially tests recommended for me)?
- What are the benefits versus potential risks involved with such tests?
- How will taking the tests affect me and my baby?
- How will the tests help me prepare for delivery?
- What is the reliability and accuracy of the tests?
- What do the results mean?
- What happens if I test positive for any of the tests?
- What is the cost of the tests?
- Are the tests covered by medical insurance?
Pregnant women should feel free to ask their OB-GYN anything about the tests. After all, when a mum-to-be is fully informed, then all the better she can make an informed decision about her health and that of her developing baby.
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