Mar 1, 2002 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Triple Screening in Pregnancy—What It Is and What to Expect

Am Fam Physician. 2002 Mar 1;65(5):922.

What is a triple screen?

A triple screen is a blood test that measures three things called alpha-fetoprotein, human chorionic gonadotropin and unconjugated estriol. The results of the blood test can help your doctor see if your baby may be at higher risk for certain birth defects.

Why is it called a “screen”?

These test results can only show that there may be a problem. An abnormal test result doesn't mean that your baby has a birth defect. Most often, the blood test results are abnormal because the baby is younger or older than your doctor thought. And some birth defects will not be detected by this test. Remember, this test does not screen for all birth defects.

When should the test be done?

Triple screens are most accurate if done between the 16th and the 18th weeks of your pregnancy. They may also be done between the 15th and 22nd weeks of your pregnancy.

What happens if the test results of the triple screen are abnormal?

Your doctor will probably want you to have some other tests or see a specialist. The first step is often to have an ultrasound exam. This test can check on the age of the baby and look at the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and heart for any problems. Another test that you might have is called amniocentesis (say: am-nee-oh-cen-tea-sis). This test checks the fluid around the baby. The results of these tests will help your doctor decide if your baby might have a problem.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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