Prenatal Genetic Testing: Making the Choice That's Right for You

Genetic testing has become the norm, rather than the exception, as increasing numbers of women are becoming parents after the age of 35. From a woman's mid-thirties through her forties, the chance for abnormalities increases dramatically.

Prior to the age of 35, the chances of having a child with Down's syndrome are smaller than the risk of miscarriage from the procedure, which tests for Downs. At 35 years of age, a woman's statistical probability of having this complication of pregnancy becomes equal to the risk associated with the amniocentesis procedure. After this point, risk of chromosomal abnormality increase dramatically into a woman's mid to late forties. Still, it is far more likely that a woman at 45 will indeed have a healthy, normal child. (A point that sometimes loses its place in the mound of statistics, but is worth remembering!) The birth of a special needs child, can occur at any time, precipitating a life-changing event in any family's life cycle.


Psychological factors involved in genetic testing
By far, the most common procedure pregnant women over 35 use is amniocentesis, performed between the 16th and 18th week of pregnancy. The chorionic villus sampling, which offers earlier detection (at 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy) of chromosomal abnormality, is also a common test which many women of this age are choosing, even though the risk of miscarriage is higher with this intervention than the amnio.

For most women, the reason to use this earlier detection test is psychological. Should they receive bad news, terminating a pregnancy before 12 weeks seems less traumatic. Shortening the period of emotional stress caused by "not knowing," if everything is all right, may play a factor in women who are at greater risk of abnormalities due to family medical history.

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