Chorionic villus sampling

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Key Points

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a prenatal test done by your health care provider that can check for abnormalities in your baby.

Reasons for having CVS can include risks such as your age and medical history and your provider can discuss these reasons with you.

It is important to know the risks of CVS and how the results of CVS can affect your decisions during your pregnancy.

What is Chorionic villus sampling (CVS)?

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a prenatal test. It’s used to diagnose certain birth defects and genetic abnormalities in your baby. Genetic abnormalities are changes in the genes that are passed down to a baby from mom or dad. These genetic changes can cause health problems for a baby.

During CVS, your health care provider takes a small piece of tissue from the placenta. The sample is used to check your baby’s health.

You can get CVS early in pregnancy, between 10 and 13 weeks. CVS isn’t given to all pregnant women because there’s a small chance of miscarriage after the test.

CVS is different from another prenatal test called amniocentesis (also called amnio). Amnio is performed a little later in pregnancy. Talk to your provider about having CVS, amnio or other prenatal tests.

What are some reasons for having CVS?

Your provider should discuss prenatal testing with you and may offer you CVS. And you can ask to have CVS. You may want to have CVS if you’re at risk for having a baby with a genetic abnormality. These risks include:

  • Being 35 or older: The risk of having a baby with certain birth defects or genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, increases as you get older.
  • Having a previous child or pregnancy with a birth defect: If you had a child or a pregnancy with a birth defect in the past, your provider should offer you testing.
  • Abnormal screening test results: If you had abnormal results from a pregnancy screening test, your provider should discuss CVS with you. CVS can provide specific information to confirm if there is an abnormality in the baby. Most babies with abnormal screening test results don’t have problems and are born healthy.
  • Family history of a genetic health problem: If you or your partner has a certain genetic disease (a health condition that gets passed down to a baby from mom or dad), or a close family member with a disease, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, you may want to have CVS.

How is the test done?

The test usually takes 30 to 45 minutes.  The test can take place at an outpatient facility or your provider’s office.

There are two kinds of CVS: testing through the belly (called transabdominal CVS).  The other CVS is testing through the cervix (called transcervical CVS).  The cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina.

A health care provider with expertise in performing CVS takes a tiny piece of tissue from the placenta, which has cells from your baby, to check for problems. The placenta grows with your baby in your uterus (womb). It gives your baby food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.

During CVS:

  • Your provider will use ultrasound to check your baby’s age and position and to guide the procedure.
  • For transabdominal CVS: Your belly will be cleansed by an antiseptic.  Your provider puts a thin needle through your belly into the womb.  She then uses the needle to take a small sample of the placenta tissue.
  • For transcervical CVS: Your vagina and cervix will be cleansed by an antiseptic. Your provider places a thin tube through your vagina and cervix.  The tube gently sucks in a tiny sample of the placenta tissue.

Your provider sends the tissue sample to a lab where it is examined and tested. Test results are usually ready in about 7-14 days.

Are there any side effects or risks?

Some women find that CVS is painless. Others feel cramping, similar to period cramps, when the sample is taken. Some women who have testing through the cervix say it feels like having a Pap smear.

After CVS, relax for the rest of the day. You may have spotting or cramping for a few hours after the test.  You may consider avoiding exercise and sexual activity for the day.  
Other risks include:

  • Miscarriage:  CVS does involve a small risk of miscarriage. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that 1 in 100 (1 percent) women has a miscarriage following testing.
  • Rh Sensitization:  This is a condition when your baby’s blood mixes with your blood.  You may need to get an injection to stop your immune system from fighting off your baby’s blood.
  • Infection: It is rare but CVS may trigger an infection

Call your health care provider right away if you have:

  • Fluid leaking from vagina
  • Heavy bleeding
  • A fever
  • Contractions

To reduce complications, find a provider that is experienced in performing CVS.

What happens after the test?

In most cases, CVS test results show that a baby is healthy and without birth defects. If the test shows that your baby does have a birth defect, talk to your provider about all of your options. Your baby may be able to be treated with medicines or even surgery before birth. Or there may be treatments or surgery she can have after birth.

Knowing about a birth defect before birth may help you get ready emotionally to care for your baby. You also can plan your baby’s birth with your health care provider. This way, your baby can get any special care she needs right after she is born.

Seek support from your health care team or your loved ones if needed.

What if you’re not sure about having CVS?

Choosing to have CVS is a personal decision. Talking with genetic counselors, your health care provider, and religious and spiritual leaders can help you make decisions about testing for birth defects during pregnancy.

Ask your provider about other prenatal test options and how you can find a doctor who is trained and experienced in offering specific tests. Learn as much as you can about any prenatal tests your provider recommends to make the right decisions for you and your baby.

Last reviewed: January 2020