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Amniocentesis is a diagnostic test carried out during pregnancy. It can assess whether the unborn baby (foetus) could develop, or has developed, an abnormality or serious health condition.

Things that increase the risk of an abnormality include:

  • the mother’s age
  • the mother’s medical history
  • a family history of genetic (inherited) conditions

Read more about when amniocentesis is used.

Amniocentesis can be used to detect a number of conditions such as:

  • Down's syndrome – a genetic condition that affects a person's physical appearance and mental development
  • spina bifida – a series of birth defects that affect the development of the spine and nervous system
  • sickle cell anaemia – a condition that causes unusually shaped red blood cells

Read more about why amniocentesis is used

What happens?

Amniocentesis is usually carried out during weeks 15-20 of pregnancy. A needle is used to extract a sample of amniotic fluid, the fluid that surrounds the foetus (the developing baby) in the womb (uterus). Amniotic fluid contains cells shed from the foetus that can be examined and tested for a number of conditions.

Read more about how amniocentesis is performed.

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is an alternative diagnostic test that can be carried out during weeks 10 to 13 of pregnancy.

Risks of amniocentesis

Diagnostic tests, such as amniocentesis, are usually only offered to women when there is a significant risk their baby will develop a serious condition or abnormality.

This is because the procedure is quite invasive (involves going into the body) and has a small associated risk of miscarriage (the loss of the pregnancy). This risk is estimated to be 1 in 100.

Read more about complications of amniocentesis.

If amniocentesis is recommended, the healthcare professional who carries out the test will explain why they think the procedure is necessary, as well as benefits and risks involved.

Diagnostic tests are voluntary, and counselling should be provided to make it easier to cope with the results of amniocentesis.

Page last reviewed: 06/06/2012

Next review due: 06/06/2014


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

trixiethecat said on 01 April 2014

''Amniocentesis is a diagnostic test carried out during pregnancy. It can assess whether the unborn baby (foetus) could develop, or has developed''

Love the way the kid is classed as an unborn baby, or, if you are planning an abortion, a (foetus).

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chaggsy said on 07 December 2012

you say you can have a risk of miscarriage - I had the amnio test at 16 weeks and leaked fluid two hours after the test. From that day the fluid kept increasing and then decreasing (having scans regular to monitor this) this continued for 10 weeks that took me over the viable stage of 24 weeks. Infection took over and I lost my child at 26 weeks. So risk is not just a miscarriage it could be a neonatal death.

My daughter was not a miscarriage (Lilly May Clarke)

Make sure you know all the pros and cons of this test (I wish I did)


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