Your health care provider will use your age and the results of the blood test and ultrasound exam to gauge your risk of carrying a baby with Down syndrome or trisomy 18. Other factors — such as a prior Down syndrome pregnancy — also might affect your risk.

First trimester screening results are given as positive or negative and also as a probability, such as a 1 in 250 risk of carrying a baby with Down syndrome.

First trimester screening correctly identifies about 85 percent of women who are carrying a baby with Down syndrome. About 5 percent of women have a false-positive result, meaning that the test result is positive but the baby doesn't actually have Down syndrome.

When you consider your test results, remember that first trimester screening only indicates your overall risk of carrying a baby with Down syndrome or trisomy 18. A low-risk result doesn't guarantee that your baby won't have one of these conditions. Likewise, a high-risk result doesn't guarantee that your baby will be born with one of these conditions.

After a positive test result, your health care provider and genetics professional will discuss your options, including additional testing. For example:

  • Prenatal cell-free DNA (cfDNA) screening. This is a sophisticated blood test that examines fetal DNA in the maternal bloodstream to determine whether your baby is at risk of Down syndrome, extra sequences of chromosome 13 (trisomy 13) or extra sequences of chromosome 18 (trisomy 18). Some forms of cfDNA screening also screen for other chromosome problems and also provide information about fetal gender. A normal result might eliminate the need for a more-invasive prenatal diagnostic test.
  • Chorionic villus sampling (CVS). CVS can be used to diagnose chromosomal conditions, such as Down syndrome. During CVS, which is usually done during the first trimester, a sample of tissue from the placenta is removed for testing. CVS poses a small risk of miscarriage.
  • Amniocentesis. Amniocentesis can be used to diagnose both chromosomal conditions, such as Down syndrome, and neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. During amniocentesis, which is usually done during the second trimester, a sample of amniotic fluid is removed from the uterus for testing. Like CVS, amniocentesis poses a small risk of miscarriage.

Your health care provider or a genetic counselor will help you understand your test results and what the results mean for your pregnancy.

Oct. 10, 2015