Fetal Mental Illnesses and Disorders

One of the biggest concerns for any parent is the health of their unborn child. Not only is physical health a concern, but so is mental health. Some types of mental retardation are caused by substance abuse by the mother like drinking or recreational drug use. Substance abuse affects the development of the central nervous system of the brain causing permanent damage in the areas that control behavior and learning. Sometimes physical development is also affected. Babies born to mothers who have abused drugs may be born addicted and may suffer severe withdrawal symptoms which can also damage the delicate newborn brain.

Mental disorders caused by a pregnant mother's substance abuse are rarely detected before the child is born. If it is unknown whether the mother abused alcohol or drugs, sometimes substance abuse that cause mental problems aren't detected until the child gets older and doesn't meet developmental milestones. If it is known that a mother abused drugs or alcohol, testing and monitoring can begin at an early age to help a child grow to be an adult who can contribute to society even if he or she may never be able to live on their own.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is one of those ambiguous terms that is used to describe anything that doesn't fit into the medical idea of what an average person should be emotionally. This term is used to describe someone with mild mood problems, to severe depression to paranoid schizophrenia.

There have been some arguments in the medical community whether mental illness is simply something that you're born with -- that it's in your genes or that something happened to your developing brain when you were just a fetus - or if it's something caused by your social environment.

There is no simple answer to this and no simple way to determine if your unborn child will grow to have a mental illness or disorder. There have been some medical studies completed on twins with similar genetic make-up and who experienced the same prenatal care. The cause of the mental illness schizophrenia couldn't be narrowed down when one of the twins was diagnosed with the illness in early adulthood.

The short answer is that there is no prenatal mental walkthrough or testing that can determine if your child will grow to have mental health issues when he or she gets older. Unless the mother abused drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy, there is simply no way of knowing for sure if the child will experience any mental problems later in life. Testing is available to check into the possibility of Down's syndrome and other disorders, but even these types of testing aren't foolproof. Sometimes false positives or negatives arise.

Prenatal Diagnostic Testing

Chromosomal abnormalities can be detected in the fetus through Chorionic villus sampling (CVS). This process involves a doctor passing a small, flexible tube (catheter) through the cervix to scrape the chorionic villus tissue (placenta cells). These cells are genetically identical to the fetus and can be taken to a lab for testing. Testing can show if the baby might have Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, thalassemia or Tay-Sachs disease. Testing is done in the first trimester and the results are usually available within two weeks. Risks include vaginal bleeding, infection, miscarriage or birth defects. These risks are the same but slightly higher with this procedure than with an amniocentesis.

An amniocentesis is a process where a hollow needle is inserted through the stomach wall and the uterine wall to collect a sample of amniotic fluid. Cells in the fluid are analyzed for abnormalities. Results are typically available within two weeks.

An enhanced blood testing, called an alpha-fetoprotein test, can indicate abnormalities by measuring hormones and protein levels. These tests can indicate if the fetus is missing a brain (anencephaly) or has an incompletely developed back and spine (spina bifida). Results are typically available within four days.

Options for Positive Testing

Your health practitioner will provide you with options if any of the diagnostic testing is positive. Options may include terminating the pregnancy or counseling and resources.

Login to comment

Post a comment