Risks Associated With Private Baby Scans

Ultrasound scans have been carried out for many years without any risk to human health and a scan should not harm you or your baby in any way. If your ultrasound scans show problems or your pregnancy is high risk or you choose to have additional tests, there may be risks involved. Before you have any test, you will be made aware of the potential risks and side-effects and you should be given all the information you need before you make a decision about whether or not to have the tests. 3D and 4D scans are just as safe as 4D scans; the only difference is that they show the baby in much greater detail.

Other screening tests, which may be offered during pregnancy, may carry higher risks than ultrasound scans.

  • The combined test: the combined test is available on the NHS and from private providers; it is used to screen for Down’s syndrome, a genetic condition, which occurs when there is an additional chromosome number 21. People with Down’s syndrome tend to have learning difficulties and delayed development and they may also be at risk of increased susceptibility to digestive issues and heart defects. The combined test is not a diagnostic test; it is used to ascertain the risk of a baby suffering from Down’s syndrome. The test is made up of a scan and a blood test; the scan is used to determine important measurements and analyse fluid from the baby’s neck; this is called a nuchal translucency test. The blood test is used to check the levels of free B-hCG, B-human chorionic gonadotrophin and PPA-P, pregnancy associated plasma protein-A. The combined test does not carry any risk to you or your baby and it has an accuracy rate of around 85-90 per cent.

The results of the combined test can also be used to determine the risk of additional syndromes, including Edwards’ syndrome and Patau’s syndrome, both of which are very serious conditions; the majority of babies with these syndromes do not survive pregnancy or die very shortly after birth.

  • Chorionic villus sampling: chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a test, which is available during pregnancy to detect cases of genetic disorders, including Down’s syndrome. The test involves taking and analysing a small sample of cells from the placenta and it is usually offered between 11 and 14 weeks. CVS is not offered to all pregnant women and is generally recommended only when a pregnancy is high risk or scans have detected potential signs of genetic disorders. CVS may also be recommended if you have family history of a genetic condition or you have already had a baby with a genetic condition. Examples of genetic problems, which may be identified during CVS include:
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Edwards syndrome
  • Patau syndrome
  • Sickle cell anaemia

The main risk of CVS is miscarriage; however, this is very uncommon and only affects between 1 and 2 per cent of women who have CVS. The risk of complications is highest before 10 weeks and therefore the test is generally not recommended at this stage. Other potential complications include infection; it may also be necessary to repeat the test if the sample wasn’t able to be analysed accurately in the first place.

  • Amniocentesis: amniocentesis is an alternative to chorionic villus sampling, which may be offered to women at around 15-18 weeks; this test is generally only provided when there is a significant risk that the foetus has or will develop a birth defect or a serious inherited or genetic condition. Amniocentesis involves removing and analysing a small sample of the amniotic fluid, the fluid, which surrounds the baby in the womb. This test can be used to check for genetic conditions, such as Down’s syndrome, sickle cell anaemia and spina bifida.

Amniocentesis carries a lower risk of miscarriage than CVS, but there is still a risk and around 1 in 100 women who undergo amniocentesis suffer a miscarriage. There is also a very small risk of bacterial infection, which is estimated to affect around 1 in 1,000 women.

  • NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing): NIPT is currently available at private health clinics and it offers a non-invasive alternative to screening tests used on the NHS to check for an elevated risk of Down’s syndrome; the results can also help to ascertain the risk of two other very serious genetic syndromes, Edwards’ syndrome and Patau’s syndrome. As the test is non-invasive, it carries fewer risks than chorionic villus sampling (CVS) and amniocentesis. The results are not available immediately, but they are very accurate, with some systems boasting an accuracy rate in detecting Down’s syndrome of up to 99 per cent. The test is not a diagnostic test, but if you have a very high result, this will usually mean that a diagnostic test (amniocentesis or CVS) will confirm that the baby has Down’s syndrome.

Before you undergo any test during pregnancy, you should be made aware of the risks involved; for some tests, you will need to sign a consent form to confirm that you understand the risks involved.

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