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First Trimester Screening (Nuchal Translucency and Blood Test)

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WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD

Who Gets the Test?

The first trimester screening is a safe, optional test for all pregnant women. It's a way of checking your baby's risk of certain birth defects, such as Down syndrome, Edward's syndrome (trisomy 18), trisomy 13 and many other chromosomal abnormalities as well as heart problems.

What the Test Does

The screening involves two steps. A blood test checks for levels of two substances -- pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A (PAPP-A) and human chorionic gonadotropin. A special ultrasound, called a nuchal translucency screening, measures your baby's nasal bone as well as the fluid at the back of your baby's neck. A high volume of fluid can be a sign of problems.

The combined result of the blood tests and the ultrasound gives you a sense of your baby's risk. However, it's not a diagnosis. Most women who have an abnormal firsttrimester screening go on to have healthy babies.

Whether you get this test is your choice. Some women want the test so they can prepare. Others don't. They may decide that knowing the results wouldn't change anything. Or they feel that the test could result in unnecessary stress and invasive testing. However knowing of possible risks would allow for increased monitoring during your pregnancy as well as giving you delivery options (special hospital, pediatric surgeon availability).

How the Test Is Done

The first trimester screen won't harm you or your baby. A technician will take a quick blood sample from your arm or fingertip. The nuchal translucency screening is a normal ultrasound. You'll lie on your back while a technician holds a probe against your belly. It will take between 20 to 40 minutes.

What to Know About Test Results

You should have the results in a few days. If your results are normal, your baby has a low risk of these birth defects. If they're abnormal, your doctor may suggest further tests to rule out problems. These could include ultrasounds or invasive procedures, like CVS or amniocentesis.

Try not to worry if your results are abnormal. Remember: This test can't diagnose birth defects. It only shows if your baby has a greater risk than average.

Sometimes your test results are combined with a second- trimester screening. In that case, you may not get test results until your second trimester. Or you may get the results, and then get combined results after the second test.

How Often the Test Is Done During Your Pregnancy

You would get the first- trimester screen once between the 11th and 13th week.

Other Names for This Test

Nuchal test, integrated screening, sequential screening

Tests Similar to This One

Triple screen, quad screen, MSAFP

Reviewed on May 22, 2014

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