Does fetal screening affect women's worries about the health of their baby?

A randomized controlled trial of ultrasound screening for Down's syndrome versus routine ultrasound screening


*Susanne Georgsson Öhman
Department of Nursing
Karolinska Institutet
SE-141 83 Stockholm


Background.  Screening for fetal abnormality may increase women's anxiety as attention is directed at the possibility of something being wrong with the baby. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of ultrasound screening for Down's syndrome on women's anxiety in mid-pregnancy and 2 months after delivery.

Method.  Two thousand and twenty-six women were randomly allocated to an ultrasound examination at 12–14 gestational weeks (gws) including risk assessment for Down's syndrome or to a routine scan at 15–20 gws. Questionnaires including the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), the Cambridge Worry Scale (CWS), and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) were filled in at baseline in early pregnancy, at 24 gws and 2 months after delivery.

Results.  No statistically significant differences were found between the trial groups regarding women's worries about the health of the baby, general anxiety and depressive symptoms during pregnancy or 2 months after delivery. Women's worries about something being wrong with the baby in the early ultrasound group and routine group, respectively, decreased from baseline (39.1% versus 36.0%) to mid-pregnancy (29.2% versus 27.8%), and finally to 2 months after delivery (5.2% versus 6.6%).

Conclusion.  Fetal screening for Down's syndrome by an early ultrasound scan did not cause more anxiety or concerns about the health of the baby in mid-pregnancy or 2 months after birth than in women who had a routine scan.