Maternal serum alpha fetoprotein test (MSAFP) is conducted sometime between the 14th and the 22nd week of pregnancy. The test shows its most accurate results if it is conducted between the 16th and the 18th week of pregnancy. This is not a diagnostic test, but simply a means of determining if there is problem relating to the development of the fetus that might require further diagnosis. The results of the test are considered in conjunction with other factors like the would-be mother's ethnicity, age and other blood tests. Though all pregnant women should go through this test, it is especially recommended for women above the age of 35 years, or those who have a history of birth defects in their family, or are on certain strong medications, or are patients of diabetes.
Maternal serum alpha protein test is done in order to determine the level of a chemical called alpha-protein that is produced both by the serum in embryonic sac, as well as the liver and the gastrointestinal tract of developing during the early stages of gestation. A very high level of alpha-fetoprotein may be indicative of the risk of the problems relating to the baby's esophagus, though in most cases this may be the consequence of inaccurate dating of the pregnancy. It may also be a sign of a multiple pregnancy. If the level of alpha-fetoproteins is low then chances are that the baby may develop Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome or other genetic disorders. The test does not, however, point conclusively to any of these ailments: it only indicates the possibility of any of these disorders that may affect the fetus.
The maternal serum alpha protein screening test does not require any great preparation on the part of the pregnant woman. All you need to do is fix an appointment with your doctor well in advance to conduct the test within the time duration mentioned above. If you feel anxious, it helps if you have a friend or a partner accompanying you to the clinic for the test.
The test is not an invasive procedure and therefore it does not involve any pain. At most, a few women may experience a mild discomfort akin to getting a normal injection when the blood is drawn from one of the veins in the arms. The test results are usually screened at three levels and returned to the person within a week or two.