Health Buzz: Blood Test Could Detect Down Syndrome During Pregnancy

Prenatal tips if you're pregnant or thinking about it; how to have a happier, healthier, smarter baby.

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Blood Test Could Diagnose Down Syndrome With 100 Percent Accuracy

A simple blood test is on the horizon that could help pregnant women avoid the invasive procedures now used to diagnose Down syndrome prenatally. European scientists have developed an experimental blood test they claim detects a gene mutation associated with Down syndrome with 100 percent accuracy, according to a report published Sunday in Nature Medicine. Currently, doctors use one of two invasive procedures to diagnose the condition: either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which both involve inserting needles into the abdomen to extract fetal cells. Both tests are about 80 percent accurate and carry a small risk of miscarriage; only 1 in 10 mothers chooses to undergo either, HealthDay reports. The new blood test detects Down syndrome through fetal DNA that has spilled into the mother's bloodstream. Forty pregnant women participated in the study, and researchers used the test to correctly identify 14 cases of Down syndrome and 26 normal fetuses, but warn that a larger study is necessary to validate the results. "We estimate we can introduce this to clinical practice in a couple of years," should no snags arise, study author Philippos Patsalis, chief executive medical director of the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics, told HealthDay.

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  • Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips

    From conception to delivery, a fetus is at the mercy of its environment. A mother-to-be has more control over her internal chemistry than she might think, and her odds of having a healthy baby will be much improved if she follows these tips, U.S. News reports.

    1. Take steps even before you're pregnant. If you're considering pregnancy, you should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to guard against neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Also ask about vaccination against chickenpox or rubella. These and a few other "live" vaccines cannot be given to pregnant women; the illnesses can cause birth defects if contracted during pregnancy.

    2. Don't delay an OB visit. Early blood tests can catch anemia and infections that can affect the fetus if not dealt with quickly. Possibly correctable problems such as heart abnormalities often can be detected in the coming months through echocardiography and other screening tests.

    3. Write down all meds. Your doctor should review your drugs, vitamins, and supplements. Some of them, such as certain antidepression and seizure medications, can harm your baby's heart and increase your risk of miscarriage.

    4. Don't drink. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous to the fetus; known risks include miscarriage, stillbirth, and mental retardation. It may cause facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate. [Read more: Pregnant or Thinking About It? 10 Prenatal Tips.]

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    • How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby

      Pregnant women have tweaked their diets, tried prenatal education tricks, and attempted whatever else baby books and doctors have recommended—all in the quest to have happier, healthier, and perhaps even smarter babies. Mothers-to-be have latched onto fish oil, to cite one example, because of studies crediting omega-3 fatty acids with brighter babies and a lower risk of postpartum depression.

      New research suggests none of the above. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association of more than 2,000 pregnant women who took either fish oil or vegetable oil capsules found no benefit to cognitive or language skills of babies born to fish oil-taking mothers. (Nor did fish oil seem to alleviate their postpartum depression.)

      So what can women do to enhance their babies' prenatal experiences and give them a leg-up when they enter the world? In her book Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, journalist Annie Murphy Paul explores the burgeoning field of fetal origins, which examines how the conditions we encounter before birth influence us down the line. U.S. News spoke with Paul, who shared her insight on which prenatal behaviors withstand scientific scrutiny—and which are shaky at best. [Read more: How to Have a Happier, Healthier, Smarter Baby.]