What’s a nuchal scan?

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A nuchal scan, or ultrasound prenatal screening, is done between weeks 11 and 13 of pregnancy to check for abnormalities. It measures the translucent space in the nuchal crease at the back of the baby’s neck and compares it to the mother’s age to determine the risk of Down syndrome. If there is cause for concern, further testing may be done. It’s best to complete the scan early to allow time for additional testing. False positives and negatives are possible, and it may be difficult to find a doctor who can perform the scan.

A neck scan is an ultrasound, or ultrasound prenatal screening scan, done by your doctor during weeks 11 to 13 of your pregnancy. After 13 weeks and six days, that’s no longer an option. It is also sometimes called a nuchal translucency (NT) screening or nuchal fold scan.
Prenatal screening is used to determine if there are any abnormalities or potential birth defects. Nuchal scanning is often a noninvasive first step in looking for abnormalities. If the nuchal scan shows any cause for concern, a more invasive procedure, such as amniocentesis or a chorionic villus sampling (CVS), may be done.

It’s best to complete the nuchal scan as soon as possible because a CVS should be done in 11 to 12 weeks. The amniocentesis will take place at 15-18 weeks. As always, it’s best to allow plenty of time to complete additional testing.

A nuchal scan measures the translucent space in the nuchal crease at the back of your baby’s neck. More than normal fluid buildup in this space may be an indication that your baby is at an increased risk of being born with Down syndrome, also called Down syndrome. The length from the crown to the baby’s rump is measured to be sure of an accurate age in weeks. The child’s age is then compared to the nuchal fold thickness which provides a more accurate measurement.

The mother’s age is also taken into account as the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome increases with the mother’s age. By age 20, the odds of having a child with Down syndrome are about 1 in 1,000, but by age 35, the risk is about 1 in 400. The likelihood continues to increase beyond age 35.

The scan doesn’t determine if your child has Down syndrome; it only indicates a higher risk factor, which can then be followed up with diagnostic tests. A nuchal scan is accurate at detecting potential abnormalities 70-80% of the time, but of course there is always the potential for false positives and false negatives. Any concerns you may have should always be discussed with your doctor.

Because nuchal translucency scanning is a relatively new procedure, requiring new equipment and new training, it may be more difficult to find a doctor who can do the ultrasound. Your doctor should be able to refer you to a medical center that can help you. Another option is to contact your insurance company, as they will be able to advise you more specifically.

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