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Screening tests for neural tube defects

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Screening tests can be done to work out the chance that your baby has a neural tube defect (eg spina bifida). You may be offered these tests, but not all women choose to have them. It is important before you have a test to think about the possible result and what you might do about it. You can discuss this with your doctor or midwife.


Neural tube defects

These are abnormalities that occur in the development of the spinal cord and brain of some babies. The most common defects are spina bifida (abnormal development of part of the spine and spinal cord) and anencephaly (severely abnormal development of the brain).

Some of these babies will have major physical disabilities, some have only mild disabilities. Some will die soon after birth.

For more information

Raising Children Network Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.

Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Queensland  

Pregnancy, birth and baby Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a national Australian Government service providing support and information for expecting parents and parents of children, from birth to 5 years of age.

Ultrasound scan for neural tube defects

A detailed ultrasound scan of the baby when you are around 18-20 weeks pregnant can detect almost all babies with a neural tube defect (95%). 

Women are usually offered an ultrasound scan at this time as part of routine pregnancy care. Most women use this ultrasound scan to screen for neural tube defects rather than have the screening blood test. Ultrasound scans are safe.

Screening blood test

This blood test can be done between 14 weeks and 20 weeks plus 6 days. If you are having the second trimester blood test for Down syndrome, neural tube defect screening can be done at the same time. If it shows that your baby has an increased chance of having a neural tube defect an ultrasound will be done straight away.

What happens if your baby is found to have a neural tube defect?

If your baby is found to have a neural tube defect you will be given information about how this might affect your baby and the rest of your pregnancy, as well as the support services that are available.

There is information about neural tube defects and support services available on the Raising Children Network website

What next?

You will then need to decide whether to continue your pregnancy or end it early.

For more information have a look at the topic Genetic or medical termination of pregnancy.

Where can you get more information?

Talk to the doctor who is looking after you during your pregnancy.

Women's and Children's Hospital (South Australia) pamphlet 'Screening tests for Down Syndrome and Neural Tube Defects (Spina Bifida)

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see your doctor or midwife.


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