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Tests You Need During Pregnancy

Prenatal tests are important for your health and your unborn baby's health. Here's what to expect.

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Certain populations, for example, are at risk for certain diseases, Weinblatt explains. Ashkenazic Jews (those of Eastern European descent) as well as French Canadians and Cajuns are at high risk for Tay-Sachs, a debilitating neurological disease that usually results in a child's early death. Since the increased use of screening tests to determine whether parents-to-be are carriers of Tay-Sachs became more prevalent in the 1970s, the incidence of the disease has dropped dramatically, says Weinblatt.

Weinblatt says other illnesses that are specific to the Jewish population and can be screened with a blood test or tissue sample are Canavan disease; mucolipidosis type 4; Niemann-Pick disease type A; Fanconi anemia type C; Bloom syndrome; familial dysautonomia; and Gaucher disease.

Africans, African Americans, Southern Europeans, and Asians are at higher risk for blood-related illnesses such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, says Weinblatt.

If you have a family history of illnesses such as muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, or cystic fibrosis, you may also want to consult a genetic counselor, Weinblatt advises. "A genetic counselor can't treat you or your unborn child, but he or she can let you know how your risk factors can affect your pregnancy.

"When you know ahead of time -- even if you find out that both you and your partner are carriers of a specific illness -- you can prepare yourself emotionally, you can find the proper doctor, etc. You'll have a greater feeling of control when you know what to look for."

However many prenatal tests you have, try not to become too anxious. Remember, says Lampley, that "the vast majority of unborn children are perfectly normal, provided the mother has taken care of herself and her child."

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