Amniocentesis

Read about amniocentesis, a diagnostic test that may be offered to detect a serious or potentially serious disorder in an unborn baby (foetus).

Amniocentesis is only offered to pregnant women who have a higher chance of having a baby with a genetic or chromosomal condition. It can diagnose a range of conditions.

If your test results, or medical or family history suggest you have a higher chance of having a baby with a genetic or chromosomal condition, you may be offered amniocentesis.

You don't have to take the test – it's up to you to decide whether you want it.

What conditions can amniocentesis detect?

Amniocentesis can be used to diagnose a number of conditions, including:

  • Down's syndrome – a condition that typically causes some level of learning disability and a characteristic range of physical features
  • Edwards' syndrome and Patau's syndrome – conditions that can result in miscarriagestillbirth or (in babies that survive) severe physical problems and learning disabilities
  • cystic fibrosis – a condition where the lungs and digestive system become clogged with thick, sticky mucus
  • muscular dystrophy – a condition causing progressive muscle weakness and disability
  • sickle cell disease – where the red blood cells develop abnormally and are unable to carry oxygen around the body properly
  • thalassaemia – a condition that affects red blood cells and can cause anaemia, restricted growth and organ damage

Deciding whether to have amniocentesis

If you're offered amniocentesis, ask your doctor or midwife what the procedure involves, and what the risks and benefits are before deciding whether to have it.

You may also find it helpful to contact a support group, such as Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC), a charity that offers information, advice and support on all issues related to screening during pregnancy.

Reasons to have amniocentesis

It will usually be able to tell you whether your baby will be born with any of the conditions tested for.

If no problem is found, it may be reassuring, while a result showing that a condition was detected will give you plenty of time to decide how you want to proceed with your pregnancy. Read about the results of amniocentesis for more information.

Reasons not to have amniocentesis

There's a 0.5-1% chance you could have a miscarriage after the procedure. You may feel this outweighs the potential benefits of the test. Read more about the risks of amniocentesis.

Some women decide they would rather find out when their baby is born.

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