Maternal Serum Alpha-Fetoprotein Screening (MSAFP) is also known as alpha-fetoprotein test. The test measures the level of alpha-fetoprotein in the maternal blood. MSAFP is a screening test not a diagnostic test. It is usually part of the triple screen test which assess whether you need further screening.


MSAFP is usually performed around pregnancy week 16 to 18. Your level of  this protein varies depending on the age of your  pregnancy. Therefore accurate gestational age of pregnancy is crucial.


Who need an MSAFP ?


This test should be offered to all pregnant women. However it is recommended for women in this category.

  • 35 years of age or older
  • have a family history of birth defects
  • have diabetes
  • women who  used possible harmful medications or drugs during pregnancy


What does MSAFP look out for ?


This test measures high and low levels of AFP as well as abnormal levels of hCG and estriol. The results are combined with maternal weight, age, ethnicity and gestation age of pregnancy to assess the possibility of a genetic disorder.


High levels of AFP may indicate that the baby has neural tube defects such as spina bifida. However one of the most common causes of a high AFP level is a wrong calculation of the gestational age of the pregnancy.


Low levels of AFP  and abnormal levels of hCG and estriol may indicate that the developing baby has Down syndrome , Edwards syndrome or any type of chromosomal abnormalities.


The result of a triple screen test may be used to identify pregnancies that are more advanced than thought or multiple pregnancies.


What do the results of an MSAFP mean ?


It is important to note that this test is a screen test not a diagnostic test. It tells you the possibility of the baby having a genetic disorder.


Abnormal results may warrant further testing to be able to make a diagnosis. A second MSAFP or a compelete triple screen test followed by a high-definition ultrasound may be done. If the results still come back abnormal, you may need a more invasive test such as amniocentesis to confirm diagnosis.


Do I need further testing ?


Further testing is optional. However it provides you the opportunity to make a diagnosis and get medical intervention that may be available for the baby. It may also help to prepare emotionally and physically for taking care of a child with special needs. It is important to discuss thoroughly with your doctor the benefits and risks of this test.


Content Sources
Maternal Serum Alpha-Fetoprotein Screening (MSAFP) . American Pregnancy Association. Accessed January 2, 2015

Definition of MSAFP (maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein) . Accessed January 2, 2015

Maternal Serum Alpha-Fetoprotein (MSAFP). University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed January 2, 2015


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