University of Maryland physicians use ultrasound in novel way

For most moms-to-be, there is an audible sigh of relief

Physicians at the University of Maryland Medical Center are using a new ultrasound technique to detect increased risk of genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome and heart disorders in unborn babies.

The beauty of the ultrasound test -- called nuchal translucency screening -- is that it is accurate, non-invasive and is performed at 10-14 weeks, much earlier in the course of pregnancy than amniocentesis.

Its key attribute is that it doesnt involve an invasive amniocentesis. We get reliable information without risk to child or mother, says Christopher Harman, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Medical Centers Division of Maternal and Fetal Medicine and professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The nuchal translucency screening test involves using ultrasound to measure a specific area of the babys neck that can be an early indicator of both genetic disorders and heart abnormalities. By measuring blood fluid in this limited region, physicians are able to assess risk for genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome, which are known to be accompanied by abnormal distribution of fluid.

Ultrasound is a standard imaging tool that uses high-frequency sound waves to bounce off the body and create a picture. It is a highly anticipated test for many parents-to-be, allowing doctors to see how the baby is developing. It sometimes reveals the sex of the child.

But the diagnosis of genetic disorders like Down syndrome historically has meant undergoing amniocentesis, an invasive test that requires the insertion of a long hollow needle into the uterus to draw fluid from the sac surrounding the fetus for further testing. The test may be uncomfortable for the mother and there is a small chance of infection or injury to the fetus. There also is a small chance of miscarriage. This test typically is not perfor

Contact: Gwen Newman
University of Maryland Medical Center

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