Triple Marker Screen Test- Benefits, Procedure, Results & more

Triple Marker Test During Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rima Sonpal (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

A pregnant woman has to undergo a series of test to ensure that her pregnancy is progressing well and that her baby is developing just fine. If you are pregnant, your doctor might recommend several tests, including the triple marker test. This test will help her check for any genetic disorders in your baby. The triple marker test is known as the multiple marker test or multiple screening test. Read on to know more about this test and why is it important during pregnancy.

What Is a Triple Marker Test?

The triple marker screen test (also known as triple marker test) is a simple non-invasive blood test that is carried out between the 15th and 18th week of pregnancy. In this test, a sample of blood is taken and the levels of AFP, hCG, and estriol in the blood are measured to determine any abnormalities in the foetus.

  • Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) – AFP is a protein produced by the developing foetus. High levels of this protein can indicate possible defects such as neural tube defects in the baby.
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) – hCG is a hormone produced by the placenta. High levels of this hormone can indicate a molar pregnancy or multiple pregnancies, whereas low levels of this hormone can indicate possible complications in the pregnancy like a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Estriol – Estriol is an oestrogen produced by both the foetus and the placenta. Low levels of this hormone can indicate the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome.

The test is carried out to find out if the developing foetus is at the risk of having certain birth defects.

Why Is It Called a Screening Test?

It is imperative to understand what a screening test is in order to get comfortable while getting one done. A screening test is not a diagnosing tool. It compares a number of parameters like age, ethnicity, results from blood tests, etc., before providing an indication of a risk factor for certain abnormalities to be present. A screening test is not conclusive in terms of pinpointing at a specific problem, however, it simply helps obtain a directive if further tests need to be performed to ascertain a particular condition or a problem.

Reasons to Have a Triple Marker Test During Pregnancy

The triple test can provide important information on your pregnancy to your doctor. Here a few ways it helps:

  • By conducting this test early on in pregnancy, neural tube defects and other birth defects can be detected.
  • This test can help identify if the baby is at the risk of developing Down syndrome.
  • The triple test helps identify Trisomy 18 (Edward’s Syndrome) during pregnancy.
  • The Trisomy test helps identify whether the woman is expecting two or more babies.
  • The test also detects other abnormalities that could help the doctor proceed further with a diagnosis.

When Should You Get the Triple Test?

As mentioned above, the triple test can be conducted between week 15 and week 20 of pregnancy. However, the most accurate result can be obtained between week 16 and week 18. The results of the test are usually available within two to four days.

How Should You Prepare for the Triple Marker Screen Test?

There is no preparation required for this test. You won’t have any eating restrictions too before you go for this test. The side effects of this test are also negligible as it is a non-invasive test carried out by drawing a blood sample. It has minimal risk for the mother as well as the baby.

How Is the Test Performed?

The triple test procedure is the same as the procedures involved in any other blood test. Here is how your doctor or technician will perform this test.

  • Step 1: First, the technician will ask you to extend your arm and make a fist. This will help him find your vein.
  • Step 2: Then the doctor will place a strap around the arm and secure this point firmly.
  • Step 3: Next, the technician will clean the area with an antibacterial and antiseptic wipe.
  • Step 4: Then a needle will be inserted attached to a vial used for blood storage.
  • Step 5: Once the vial is full, the technician will pull out the vial, clean the area with another antiseptic and antibacterial swab.
  • Step 6: The blood sample will then be sent for evaluation to a lab where the biochemist will evaluate the sample.
  • Step 7: The results will then be put in software which will then be sent to the doctor. The doctor will then share the result with you.

Doctor taking blood sample of pregnant woman

During your subsequent appointment with the doctor, she will discuss the results and provide relevant information based on the results.

Note: The test does not have any side effects. Please discuss any concerns you have about the test, results, and action required based on the results with your primary healthcare physician.

What Triple Screen Test Looks For

The triple screen test is an indicative test that provides the doctors with an insight on what course to take if an abnormality is detected. This test measures the levels of hCG and determines whether or not the hCG and estriol levels are normal. This result is then supplemented with the mother’s age, weight, the gestation period of pregnancy and ethnicity to come to a diagnosis.

Precautions to Take During the Test

When undergoing this test, it is important that you share relevant information with your doctor. A change in information can alter the results of the test. Doctors take the required precautions while drawing blood to ensure that the foetus is not affected by any blood-borne pathogens by using new needles, antiseptic and antibacterial wipes, and if required putting you on the necessary antibiotics.

Benefits of the Triple Marker Screen Test

A triple marker test can indicate potential complications in pregnancy and the presence of multiple foetuses. Getting a triple marker screen test done is particularly beneficial for a woman who is above 35 years of age. The major benefit of this test is that it helps identify birth defects in the baby and helps a pregnant woman prepare for the same in advance. Some of these genetic disorders and abnormalities include:

  • Trisomy 18 or Edward’s syndrome which is a chromosome abnormality.
  • Down syndrome, a condition in which extra genetic material from chromosome 21 is present in the cell.
  • Neural tube defects, which are basically birth defects of the brain, spine, and the spinal cord.

Side Effects and Risks to the Mother and the Baby

There are no known side effects of this test. As the amount of the blood drawn is very little; even the loss of blood is not significant enough to affect the mother’s health.

Interpretation of the Test Results

The results of the triple marker tests show the likelihood of a baby having a genetic disorder. The results, however, depend on the following factors:

  • Age of the pregnant woman
  • Ethnicity
  • Pregnant woman’s weight
  • Whether she is expecting a single child or multiple babies
  • How far along she is in her pregnancy

Once you undergo this test, your OB/GYN will analyze your triple marker test report and let you know whether the results are negative or positive. Your doctor may also suggest more tests if the results of this test are false positive or she does not see a normal value for the triple marker test.

What Does a Negative Screen Mean?

A negative screen result probably means that your foetus is at the low risk of developing birth defects such as neural tube defects, Down syndrome, and Trisomy 18. However, getting a negative screen does not guarantee a normal birth or a perfectly healthy baby.

What Should You Do If the Test Results Are Abnormal?

If the test results are abnormal, consult your doctor. She will most likely suggest a few more tests to determine the exact nature of the abnormality in the foetus. The first of these tests will most likely be an ultrasound where the age of the foetus will be determined. Along with this, the doctor will also check if the foetus’s brain, spinal cord, kidneys and heart to detect any problems.

Ultrasound test to ensure baby's health

The low-risk nature of the triple marker test ensures that even if the results are abnormal, the doctors will be able to either prepare you for the conditions to come or help cure it.

What Are the Reasons That Call for Further Testing?

Getting a triple marker test done can help identify or diagnose possible birth defects and genetic conditions but more importantly, it can help a parent prepare for them. One of the biggest reasons to get a test done is to help potential parents prepare for a life with a child who has special needs. This is done by:

  • Educating parents about the needs of a specially-abled child.
  • Connecting parents to support groups and therapist.
  • Raising awareness about a possible condition.
  • Giving parents an opportunity to consider all their options including surgery, medication and alternative therapy.

Alternative Screening Tests

Some parents may opt for alternative screening tests to further understand the diagnosis or get a second opinion. Getting tests like a prenatal ultrasound done can help parents confirm a diagnosis. Talk to your primary healthcare physician for a list of alternative tests to help you make the right choice about which test to opt for according to your needs.

Being prepared is the best way to tackle possible challenges. Knowing whether your baby is healthy or not is the first step to being prepared for your life ahead together. The triple marker test will help you prepare as well as rule out possible problems concerning your child’s health and welfare. So schedule for this test and other necessary tests and have a healthy pregnancy!

Also Read: Blood Tests During Pregnancy

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