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Abnormality is a general term which is used to describe all sorts of birth defects, including intellectual and physical disability. An abnormality may be detected during pregnancy, at birth or later on in childhood.

Alpha fetoprotein

Alpha fetoprotein is a protein which is found in the fetal bloodstream. In certain fetal conditions it can leak into the amniotic fluid or the mother's blood stream. High levels of AFP can be indicative of fetal abnormalities, whether found in a maternal blood test or an amniocentesis.


See Alpha fetoprotein


An amniocentesis is a procedure in which the doctor removes a sample of amniotic fluid from the pregnancy. The fluid contains cells which have come from the baby's skin. The fluid and cells can then be analysed in the laboratory.

See Amniocentesis on this website

Amniotic band

Amniotic bands are thin bands of amnion which are sometimes seen crossing the gestation sac and connecting to the other side. They are common and they occur in lots of normal pregnancies. Occasionally they prevent descent of the fetal head at term but most of the time they get flattened against the uterine sidewall as the pregnancy progresses and they are never noticed again. This is not the same as "Amniotic band syndrome" (see below)

Amniotic band syndrome

Amniotic band syndrome is a terrible complication of pregnancy whereby the fetus has multiple abnormalities because of rupture of the amnion in early pregnancy. This leads to multiple limb amputations, skin defects, cleft lip, encephalocele and anterior abdominal wall defects. The abnormalities are noticed well before the bands, thus it should not be confused with a single amniotic band which does not harm the fetus.


Anomaly is a medical term for abnormality. A fetal anomaly scan is a scan which looks for fetal abnormalities.


An arrythmia refers to any abnormality in the fetal heart rate or rhythm. It is common to see occasional erratic heart beats on ultrasound. They are called premature atrial contractions or "dropped beats." They usually cause no detrimental affect on the baby and the baby seems to grow out of it. However, sustained rhythm problems can lead to heart failure of the fetus in utero. If a sustained arrhythmia is noticed and the baby looks compromised then treatment may be beneficial. Medication given to the mother usually crosses the placenta in sufficient amounts to normalise the fetal heart rate.

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