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Amniocentesis

Definition

Amniocentesis is a test that can be done during pregnancy to look for these problems in the developing baby:

  • Birth defects
  • Genetic problems
  • Infection
  • Lung development 

Alternative Names

Culture - amniotic fluid; Culture - amniotic cells; Alpha-fetoprotein - amniocentesis

How the Test is Performed

Amniocentesis removes a small amount of fluid from the sac around the baby in the womb (uterus). It is most often done in a doctor's office or medical center. You do not need to stay in the hospital.

You will have a pregnancy ultrasound first. This helps your health care provider see where the baby is in your womb.

Numbing medicine is then rubbed onto part of your belly. Sometimes, the medicine is given through a shot in the skin on the belly area.

Your health care provider inserts a long, thin needle through your belly and into your womb. A small amount of fluid (about 4 teaspoons) is removed from the sac surrounding the baby.

The fluid is sent to a laboratory. Testing may include:

  • Genetic studies
  • Measurement of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels (a substance produced in the liver of the developing baby)
  • Culture for infection

Results of genetic testing usually take about 2 weeks. Other test results come back in 1 to 3 days.

Sometimes amniocentesis is also used later in pregnancy to:

  • Diagnose infection
  • Check whether the baby's lungs are developed and ready for delivery
  • Remove excess fluid from around the baby if there is too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)

How to Prepare for the Test

Your bladder must be full for the ultrasound.

Before the test, blood may be taken to find out your blood type and Rh factor. You may get a shot of medicine called Rho(D) Immune Globulin (RhoGAM and other brands) if you are Rh negative.

Why the Test is Performed

Amniocentesis is usually offered to women who are at increased risk of having a child with birth defects. This includes women who:

  • Will be 35 or older when they give birth
  • Had a screening test that shows there may be a birth defect or other problem
  • Have had babies with birth defects in other pregnancies
  • Have a family history of genetic disorders

Genetic counseling is recommended before the procedure. This will allow you to:

  • Learn about other prenatal tests
  • Make an informed decision about options for prenatal diagnosis

This test:

  • Is a diagnostic test, not a screening test
  • Is greater than 99% accurate for diagnosing Down syndrome
  • Is most often done between 15 and 20 weeks

Amniocentesis can be used to diagnose many different gene and chromosome problems in the baby, including:

  • Anencephaly (when the baby is missing a large portion of the brain)
  • Down syndrome
  • Rare metabolic disorders that are passed down through families
  • Other genetic problems, like trisomy 18

Normal Results

A normal result means:

  • No genetic or chromosome problems were found in your baby.
  • Bilirubin and alpha-fetoprotein levels appear normal.

Note: Even with normal amniocentesis results, a baby may still have genetic or other types of birth defects.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal result may mean your baby has:

Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results. Ask your provider:

  • How the condition or defect may be treated during or after your pregnancy
  • What special needs your child may have after birth
  • What other options you have about maintaining or ending your pregnancy

Risks

Risks are minimal, but may include:

  • Infection or injury to the baby
  • Miscarriage
  • Leaking of amniotic fluid
  • Vaginal bleeding

References

Simpson JL, Holzgreve W, Driscoll DA. Genetic counseling and genetic screening. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2012:chap 10.

Simpson JL, Richards DA, Otao L, Driscoll DA. Prenatal genetic diagnosis. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2012:chap 11.

Review Date:9/26/2015
Reviewed By:Daniel N. Sacks MD, FACOG, obstetrics & gynecology in private practice, West Palm Beach, FL. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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