When you are pregnant, it is only natural to have some concerns about the health of your unborn child.

The nuchal fold test, available on the NHS at the time of your 12-week scan is a non-invasive option. This gives some idea of your risk factor for genetic abnormalities. However, it is not always completely accurate. This can lead to expectant mothers having the more invasive amniocentesis procedure unnecessarily.

However, there is now another option to find out whether your baby is at risk of any chromosomal problems. Non-invasive prenatal testing, or NIPT.

What is NIPT and how does it differ from the nuchal fold test?

The screening test currently available on the NHS is a combined blood test and nuchal fold measurement. This test measures the level of fluid at the back of the baby’s neck. It uses this measurement together with a maternal blood test to determine the risk factor for certain chromosomal abnormalities.

NIPT is a relatively new screening test. It works on the basis that a small amount of foetal DNA will cross the placenta and enter the mother’s bloodstream. A sample is taken of the mother’s blood, which is then tested using state-of-the-art DNA analysis technology. This can pinpoint your baby’s risk of a number of genetic disorders, with an accuracy of 97-99%.

NIPT can also be performed earlier in the pregnancy – from around ten weeks. And there is no upper limit on when the testing can be carried out.

What conditions can NIPT test for?

As with the NHS screening programme, there are three main conditions that NIPT can test for:

  • Down’s syndrome (Trisomy 21 – the most common genetic disorder)
  • Edward’s syndrome (Trisomy 18)
  • Patau’s syndrome (Trisomy 13)

The most common abnormality, Down’s syndrome, can be detected with over 99% accuracy using NIPT.

Does NIPT preclude the need for amniocentesis?

Although NIPT is a very accurate tool for assessing your baby’s risk factor for these conditions, it is not a diagnostic tool. If your baby is found to be at high risk, you will still need to undergo amniocentesis to be absolutely certain.

However, because NIPT is so accurate, it hugely reduces the chances of the mother having to undergo the amniocentesis procedure. This is good news as the amniocentesis test is a much more invasive procedure that can carry complications.

Is NIPT available on the NHS?

NIPT is currently available on the NHS for those mothers considered to be at high risk. For those mothers not considered to fall into this category, but who would like a bit of extra reassurance, the test is available privately here at Surescan.

For more information about NIPT, or any of our other antenatal services, such as early pregnancy scans, please contact us.