The childbearing year: Making informed decisions


5 Questions to Ask about a Test

1. What is it? Ask your doctor or midwife to explain exactly what is involved in performing the test, including the degree, if any, of pain or discomfort.


2. What does it test for? The reason for the test may not be immediately obvious to you.

3. Does this test have any risks? For example, before deciding to have an amniocentesis, you may want to know that the procedure has a slight chance of causing a miscarriage.

4. How accurate is this test? Remember that no test is 100 percent accurate. Tests vary in their accuracy. Most tests done in pregnancy have high false-positive rates (when a test says there is a problem when there isn’t) and low false-negative rates negatives (when a test says there isn’t a problem when there is). This means that when the test is negative (reassuring) you can pretty well trust that the test is right, but when the test is positive (nonreassuring), it has more potential for error. Knowing this ahead of time can help you avoid experiencing undue anxiety. It can also help you make better judgments about what to do next.

5. How will the results of this test affect my care? If the answer to this question is that it won’t, ask yourself why you would still consider this test. Often a positive (nonreassuring) test result leads to another test. For example, a high blood level of certain proteins indicates that the baby might, but probably does not, have an inborn defect, which could lead to your caregiver recommending an amniocentesis. If amniocentesis confirmed the problem, you would then be faced with deciding whether to have an abortion. You may wish to follow these types of chains to their end before deciding to have the initial test. If you don’t like the destination, it is easier not to get on the train than to get off once the train is in motion.

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