As part of an investigation into the practical problems of a maternal serum alphafetoprotein (AFP) neural tube defect (NTD) screening programme carried out in Mid Glamorgan, South Wales, between 1977 and 1979, obstetricians were recommended to refer women with high risk pregnancies directly for counselling, high resolution ultrasonography, and amniocentesis without first carrying out serum screening. Out of 15 687 pregnant women one-third attended too late to be screened. A total of 637 was classed as high risk, mostly at greater risk than 1 in 50 because of a previously affected pregnancy or an affected close relative. Compliance with recommended procedure was relatively low as many were screened. There were 10 pregnancies with a recurrence of NTD, of which one was not tested at all, two were not detected (one closed meningocele and one closed iniencephalic), and seven were detected and the pregnancies terminated. All the latter, as well as the iniencephalic, would have been detected from a serum AFP determination and a high resolution ultrasound scan alone. It is concluded that these investigations are sufficient for high risk pregnancies and that amniocentesis is not really cost effective or necessary unless either of these investigations is abnormal. As numbers in this study were small it is suggested that these conclusions should be tested in a larger study.
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