what is the triple screen test and should I get it?

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The triple screen is a blood test done around the 16th week of your pregnancy. It has become just another routine test in many OB/GYN offices. By measuring the level of alpha-fetoprotein and pregnancy hormones in your blood, the triple screen or AFP screening can indicate if you have an increased risk for carrying a baby with a genetic disorder such as Down’s syndrome or Spina bifida.

Knowing the exact gestational age is important because the protein and hormone levels increase as your pregnancy progresses. About 5 to 7% of women who are screened show an increased risk of carrying a baby with Down’s syndrome. And of those 5 to 7% , only 1 or 2 babies are born with the disorder. Therefore, the triple screen test has a high false positive rate–this means that your baby probably does not have Down’s syndrome even though the test shows your baby might have it.

These false positive results cause great anxiety for a pregnant woman. Couples worry about their baby for the rest of the pregnancy.

If you get an abnormal test result, it does not mean that there is a definite problem with your baby; it just indicates that your baby might have an increased risk of having a problem. Repeating the triple screen test usually rules out this increased risk.

If your second test yields the same abnormal results as the first test, your doctor will probably recommend having an amniocentesis. Please note that the risk of doing harm to your baby during an amnio test is usually greater than the likelihood that your baby actually has the genetic disorder you are trying to confirm. Amniocentesis could cause miscarriage.

When considering whether or not you should have the triple screen test, ask yourself what you will do with the test results, especially if you get an abnormal test result. For most pregnant women, not having the triple screen test is the smart thing to do. Read what other women have said about the triple screen test.

For a more thorough and technical explanation, please refer to the March of Dimes and WebMD.