NHS Amniocentesis During Pregnancy

Amniocentesis is used as a means by which to test unborn babies between the 15th and 20th week of a pregnancy for any one of a number of potentially life altering chromosomal defects. Your chromosomes are structures found in every cell of your body, and these contain the genetic code which acts as a set of instructions for your every bodily function. When things go wrong with these chromosomes, the results are usually lifelong debilitating illnesses, which is why amniocentesis can be such a useful tool.

Is amniocentesis available on the NHS?

Amniocentesis is a test that is in fact available on the NHS. However it is only performed in certain circumstances where it is deemed medically necessary, and this is largely because the procedure does carry with it a small risk of injury, infection, and even miscarriage. Amniocentesis is only offered on the NHS when it is thought that the benefits far outweigh the potential risks involved.

When is amniocentesis offered on the NHS?

Amniocentesis is provided on the NHS between the 15th and 20th week of pregnancies, in some cases it can be performed later on but this is quite rare. It is generally only performed after the 20th week of pregnancy if you have been exposed to viruses or bacteria that can affect your child’s health, like parvovirus B19 for example.

Amniocentesis will be recommended where there is a substantial risk of your child being born with a debilitating medical condition. For example, if you have a family history of illnesses like muscular dystrophy, which results in the gradual weakening of muscles in the body until the condition is disabling, your doctor might recommend amniocentesis. Similarly if you have had previous pregnancies during which your child has developed a chromosomal defect like Down’s Syndrome, then your doctor is likely to recommend the procedure.

If you become pregnant at over 35 years you are at a higher risk of having a child with a chromosomal condition like Down’s Syndrome, and is another instance where amniocentesis might be recommended. Finally, if an earlier genetic test or antenatal screen has highlighted a potential issue, for example abnormal levels of certain proteins, that warrants further investigation, then you may want to consider the test.

Remember that if amniocentesis is offered or suggested you are under no obligation to go through with the test under the NHS. Your doctor and/or midwife will talk you through why they think you should have the test, and what the benefits and risks are. After that the decision is yours and your partner’s.

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