Understanding Antenatal Screening | Gleneagles Hospitals
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Preventive Care
Women’s Health

Understanding Antenatal Screening

01 November 2023 · 4 mins read


Antenatal screening refers to the evaluations that are performed during pregnancy to evaluate mother and foetal health. Learn about various tests and their importance.

Importance of antenatal screening

Antenatal screening is an essential part of obstetric care. It provides important information about the current state of the unborn child's health whilst identifying and mitigating any potential issues that may arise.

The primary purpose of antenatal screening is to identify any potential health issues or anomalies at an early stage. This enables caregivers to deliver prompt interventions in a timely manner.

Antenatal screenings include a range of tests and assessment, depending on the risk factors that the expectant mother might have and the stage of the pregnancy. These screenings are performed to evaluate the health of both the mother and the developing baby.

During the early stages of pregnancy, chromosomal abnormalities and neural tube defects could be identified during routine antenatal screenings. Other potential pregnancy-related complications like preterm labour, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes can be mitigated as medical professionals are better informed to provide individualised management methods and relevant therapies for expectant parents.

Antenatal screening timing

Antenatal screening is often carried out at various points throughout a woman's pregnancy to collect essential data on the growing foetus.

Initial screenings may take place at any time throughout the first trimester, including between the tenth and thirteenth week of pregnancy.

It is common practice to plan subsequent screenings during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy in order to check the continued health of the mother as well as the developing foetus.

Depending on the outcomes, decisions can be made about further diagnostic tests, interventions, or treatments.

Types of antenatal screening tests done in Malaysia

In Malaysia, antenatal screening follows a comprehensive approach, encompassing ultrasounds, blood tests, and other assessments. Here are the most common antenatal screening exercises performed in Malaysia.

Blood tests

Various blood tests are conducted to assess the health of the mother. These include identifying blood type, Rh factor, presence of anaemia (low haemoglobin), infections (Hepatitis B, Syphilis, HIV), and immunity to specific diseases like German measles (Rubella) and chickenpox.

Maternal blood screening is also done to measure pregnancy-associated plasma protein - A (PAPP-A) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to ensure the baby has no chromosomal disorders.

Ultrasound scans

Ultrasounds are a crucial component of antenatal screening, providing visual information about the developing foetus via high-frequency sound waves. Ultrasounds are routinely conducted to check the growth and presentation of the baby among other things.

Foetal nuchal translucency scan

This ultrasound measures the thickness of the fluid build-up at the back of the foetus’s neck. For context, the increased thickness may indicate a higher risk of chromosomal abnormalities. In practice, this non-invasive scan is usually performed between 11 to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Furthermore, this ultrasound may help estimate the likelihood of the unborn child having chromosomal abnormalities, abdominal wall defects, limb abnormalities and even congenital heart diseases.

Foetal anomaly scan

The second trimester scan or foetal anomaly scan is a routine scan performed within week 20 – 24 of the pregnancy. It is primarily conducted to assess the foetus’ anatomy and detect structural abnormalities of the foetus.

Glucose testing

Typically performed during the second trimester (24 and 28 weeks), glucose testing helps identify gestational diabetes, a condition that can impact both the mother and the foetus.

Group B strep screening

The Group B streptococcus (GBS) screening test seeks to identify the presence of group B streptococci bacteria, which can pose risks to the newborn if not managed. This test is typically performed between 36 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.

Mothers who test positive for GBS are usually prescribed antibiotics during labour to reduce transmission risks to the baby.

Foetal monitoring (during late pregnancy)

Foetal monitoring typically involves the utilisation of a Doppler device to listen to the foetal heartbeat during prenatal visit.

Foetal monitoring may detect changes in the baby's heart rate that may indicate foetal distress or even lack of oxygen. This information may help caregivers to devise interventions to prevent complications and ensure the safety of the unborn child. For example, abnormal patterns may dictate the recommendation of an emergency caesarean section (C-section) delivery.

Overall, foetal monitoring in the later stages of pregnancy ensures the foetus's well-being and helps detect any signs of distress.

Book an appointment at Gleneagles Hospitals

Throughout the course of pregnancy, antenatal screening plays an essential part in protecting the health and safety of both the mother and the developing foetus.

Get in touch with us to book an appointment today to consult with our Obstetrics and Gynaecology specialists, or find out more about our Obstetrics and Gynaecology Services at your nearest Gleneagles Hospital.

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