Importance of Prenatal Testing

Submitted on March 27, 2012
The implications of prenatal testing may be open to debate but there can be no denying the benefits of prenatal tests.
Importance of Prenatal Testing

The field of genetics has given us newer insights into the role played by genes in diseases and the inheritance of these genetic diseases. Tests are available today for a wide range of inherited disorders including chromosomal and genetic abnormalities, such as neural tube defects, Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis.

Couples who wish to start a family today have the option to consider genetic counseling and prenatal testing even prior to conception.

Prenatal testing allows them to predict the possibility of having a child with certain developmental abnormalities. The tests can also be used after conception to evaluate the growth and condition of the fetus.

The importance of prenatal testing can be gauged when one considers the number of people who are at increased risk of passing on genetic abnormalities to their children. These include:

  • Eastern European Jews may have an increased risk of having children with metabolic disorders such as Tay-Sachs that may result in death during early childhood.
  • African-Americans may risk passing on the gene for sickle-cell anemia to their children.
  • People of Southeast Asian or Mediterranean descent are at increased risk of having children with thalassemia.
  • People with a family history of inherited disorders.
  • Couples who have already had children with genetic disorders.
  • Women who have been exposed to toxic or radioactive chemicals that have been known to cause birth defects.
  • Couples with shared ancestry.
  • Women with medical conditions that may affect the development of the fetus.

Prenatal testing can be done before or after conception. Certain tests such as those for spina bifida are done after conception. Counseling and diagnosis are strongly suggested in the case of women over the age of 35 and those whose first trimester screening tests have shown some abnormalities.

For couples in the high risk category, genetic testing can help to answer some questions, such as:

  • Is adoption or artificial insemination a better alternative?
  • Is there a treatment available for our child's potential defects?
  • Is the treatment for our child's potential genetic defects affordable?
  • Are we physically and psychologically prepared for the challenge of raising a special-needs child?
  • Are special education schools and training centers available in our locality?
  • If our baby's chances of survival are slim then should we consider terminating the pregnancy?

While the benefits of genetic testing are indisputable, you must remember that testing prior to conception will only give you the odds of your child having a certain genetic disorder. Once you have decided to go ahead with conception, prenatal testing may be able to confirm the presence of the disorder.