Risks of Amniocentesis

Great care is taken when it comes to procedure performed during a pregnancy, and this is because of the vulnerability of the unborn child, as well as the potential health risks to the mother as well. Amniocentesis is an important testing procedure that determines whether or not a growing foetus has one of a number of serious genetic disorders that can result in lifelong disabilities. Amniocentesis is generally only performed where there is a serious risk of a child inheriting or developing such an illness, and this is because despite the latest techniques and technologies which limit them, there are still potentially serious risks posed by the procedure.

Why are there risks to amniocentesis?

Amniocentesis is an invasive procedure, meaning that it involves taking a medical instrument and piercing skin to achieve its ends. Amniocentesis is performed using a very fine needle which is carefully sterilised (treated to remove anything that may cause an infection), which is passed through the wall of the abdomen (stomach area) and then carefully into the womb, where it punctures a protective sac called the amnion to extract the fluid surrounding the foetus called the amniotic fluid.

Because this procedure involves guiding a foreign, sharp object close to the foetus, there are risks which are involved to some extent regardless of how carefully the procedure is performed. Any time a procedure is performed that involves piercing structures and bringing a foreign object close to the foetus, there is an unavoidable element of risk.

So what are the risks involved in amniocentesis?

The biggest risk involved in amniocentesis is that of miscarriage. That being said, there is a only about a 1% incidence of miscarriage as a result of the procedure, although different sources suggest that the true figure may be lower at present because of improvements in the procedure, potentially as low as 0.5-0.6%. A miscarriage is basically when the body aborts a pregnancy, potentially as a result of trauma or injury. Because amniocentesis involves guiding a needle very close to the foetus, it can potentially be a source of trauma that triggers a miscarriage.

It is estimated that about 1 in 1000 amniocentesis procedures can result in a dangerous infection. Because the equipment used is sterilised, and because the procedure itself is performed in a sterile environment, then main cause of such an infection would be the accidental perforation, or puncture, of the bowel. This would result in a leakage of waste materials that can cause infection. In some instances the needle itself can become contaminated through contact with ultrasound equipment, and this can potentially cause an infection as well.

Because a sharp object is being passed through internal organs injury to either yourself or your unborn child can occur. In some cases these injuries are minor and quickly repaired, in others it can result in miscarriage.

These are the main risks involved in amniocentesis, and while they are a serious concern, they also occur with increasing rarity as the procedure itself and the equipment used are constantly being improved.

Minimising the risks of amniocentesis

Ensuring that the doctor performing the procedure does so regularly is a good way of making the test as safe as possible. Studies have shown that doctors who are well practiced in amniocentesis have a much lower infection and miscarriage rate.

Despite the risks involved in amniocentesis, it is still a procedure growing in popularity because in some instances the potential benefits of the test far outweigh the small chance of complications.

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