Pregnancy screening tests are an important part of pre-pregnancy care as an apparently healthy-looking woman may carry diseases that do not cause symptoms, but can pose risks to her and her future baby if left untreated.
It is also safer to identify and treat any existing conditions while a woman is not yet pregnant; for example, certain vaccinations can be dangerous to a growing foetus if administered during pregnancy. For this reason, all women planning to have a baby must undergo a health screen. Don’t Miss These Pregnancy Screening Tests:
A woman who does not know her blood type (A, B, AB or O) needs to have her blood screened. A doctor also determines her Rh factor (positive or negative), along with determining the partner’s blood type in case the woman is Rh-.
This information is important as an Rh- woman is at risk of getting exposed to Rh+ blood of the foetus, and would then produce antibodies that might reject the foetal Rh+ blood. Such fetuses conceived by Rh- women may develop haemolytic disease of the new-born, causing brain damage and death.
An antibody screen is performed to check a woman’s vaccination status against common conditions like measles, mumps, rubella, etc. A booster dose may be required if she has not been vaccinated over a long period.
Antibody levels can vary over time and a woman planning to conceive must undergo a test to determine if she still has sufficient antibodies.
For example, vaccination against Rubella or German measles is given during childhood, but the immunity may decline over time. Rubella vaccine screen must be carried out before conceiving, as the vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is often asymptomatic. This means that a woman may carry the infection but may not show any signs of it and would not know she is infected. The disease can adversely affect a pregnancy later. A blood test can help in diagnosis and it is treatable through antibiotics.
Test for HIV infection is performed during the first antenatal visit and in the 28th week of pregnancy. HIV infection can be transmitted from a mother to her baby at time of delivery and breastfeeding. Preventive measures during pregnancy, birth and feeding can reduce the chances of transmission.
Hepatitis B & C
Hepatitis B is highly infectious and can be transmitted to a new-born baby and hospital staff. Hepatitis C also carries a risk of getting transmitted to the baby during childbirth and staff through exposure to body fluids. Knowing if a woman is infected allows doctors to devise a strategy to reduce risk of transmission.
Varicella vaccine is administered to women who never contracted chickenpox earlier or vaccinated for the disease. The vaccine is unsafe to be given during pregnancy.
A Pap smear is recommended every three years for women of childbearing age. It checks the cells of the cervix for any abnormality and is a screening test for cervical cancer.
“About Infectious Diseases in Pregnancy,” NHS Screening Programmes, https://infectiousdiseases.screening.nhs.uk/infectiousdiseases
“Prepare yourself now for a healthy pregnancy,” WebMD.com, Brenda Conaway, https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/your-pre-pregnancy-checkup
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