A second-trimester anatomy scan may identify a suspected minor fetal anomaly and/or "soft marker," such as choroid plexus cysts or femoral shortening. Such findings can raise a medical concern, as they could indicate severe fetal disease; however, they are also often transient or a "false alarm." The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of pregnant women, where a medical concern was raised at the second-trimester ultrasound scan and later discarded after follow-up examinations and diagnostic testing.
Material and methods
This study consists of qualitative, in-depth interviews with nine women, where a minor anomaly/soft marker was identified at the second-trimester scan and a severe anomaly was later ruled out. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.
The main source of worry was uncertainty about the possible implications for the pregnancy and the baby, particularly concerns about potential termination of pregnancy for a severe fetal condition. The women described four strategies to manage worry and uncertainty during the diagnostic process: (a) seeking additional information to feel more in control, and (b) using social networks to share their concerns. Some women tried to (c) mentally distance themselves from the pregnancy during the diagnostic period, while (d) extra scans could relieve worry and support attachment. The women appreciated when the fetal medicine specialist pointed to normal features in the pregnancy and the baby, as this provided some counterbalance to the sense of uncertainty. In general, the women expressed satisfaction with the information received during the diagnostic process. However, all of them were worried during the diagnostic process, and where this process was prolonged, such worry lingered even after the minor anomaly/soft marker had been discarded.
Diagnostic uncertainty cannot be avoided in obstetric ultrasound and the women concerned appreciated being informed about the suspected findings even if it caused increased worry. Expedient diagnostic processes may alleviate worry, but are not always possible. Women in a prolonged diagnostic process may benefit from psychological and social support in parallel with, and even beyond, the obstetric investigation. However, further research is warranted.