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Amniocentesis is a test used for prenatal diagnosis of inherited diseases, Rh incompatibility, neural tube defects, and lung maturity. Normally performed during the second trimester of a pregnancy, this invasive procedure allows the detection of health problems in the fetus as early as fifteen weeks gestation. Although amniocentesis does carry some significant risks, the medical community commonly accepts it as a safe and useful procedure.
Nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a technique to create a three-dimensional image of a fetus. Doctors often use MRIs to image a fetuses after an ultrasound has detected an, or has been inconclusive about an, abnormality. In 1983 researchers in Scotland first used MRI to visualize a fetus. MRIs showed a greater level of fetal detail than ultrasound images, and researchers recognized the relevance of this technique as a means to gather information about fetal development and growth.
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a test used for prenatal diagnosis. Safe to perform at an earlier stage in pregnancy than amniocentesis, CVS is another invasive prenatal diagnostic test that can be performed as early as ten weeks after the woman's last menstrual cycle. While this test does carry some risks, it is generally very effective at predicting heritable diseases during or soon after the embryonic stage of development.
Throughout history methods involving urine have been a popular way to test for pregnancy. Early ideas ranged from simply observing the color of a woman's urine to the notion that the urine of pregnant women contains special crystals or secretions. Indeed, pregnancy testing can be traced back to 1350 BCE in Ancient Egypt. A written document from the time describes a process in which a woman would urinate on wheat and barley seeds over several days and, depending on which plant grew, both the woman's pregnancy status and the sex of the fetus could be determined.