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Genetic Screening Tests for Women 35 or Older

If you're 35 or older, you probably know that you have a higher risk for pregnancy problems. To help rule out any concerns, your doctor may offer you some additional prenatal tests. Whether you want have these tests is up to you.

Remember that most healthy women aged 35 and into their 40s have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. However, there are several ways genetic tests can be helpful in caring for a pregnancy:

  • You'll gain peace of mind about your babies' health.
  • You can learn about and prepare for your babies' special needs if a genetic problem is found.
  • You can use the information to help make decisions about how best to care for your pregnancy.

Not all tests are without risks, and sometimes tests can have false results. Talk with your doctor about the risks, benefits, and limitations of each test so you can make the best decision for you. Here's an overview of the tests you may be offered.

Ultrasound

Moms of all ages usually have one or more ultrasounds during their pregnancy. This safe test uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of your babies. An ultrasound may be used to:

  • Confirm that you are pregnant
  • See if you are carrying more than one baby
  • Determine whether your babies' hearts are beating
  • Estimate your babies' due date and see how your babies are growing
  • Determine your babies' genders
  • Examine your ovaries and uterus
  • Determine the location of the placenta and the amount of amniotic fluid
  • Look for signs of birth defects such as cleft lip, heart defects, spina bifida, and Down syndrome

First Trimester Screen

This test is done between weeks 11 and 14. It involves a blood test and an ultrasound.

  • The blood test measures two markers in your blood.
  • The ultrasound measures the thickness of the back of your babies' necks.

Taken together, the results look for problems with your babies' chromosomes, such as Down syndrome.

This test serves the same function as the quad marker screen (below), but allows your doctor to see your babies. It also tends to cause fewer false alarms. Sometimes it's combined with a second blood test like the quad screen, to give a result that is more accurate than either of the individual tests.

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