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Alternative namesFetal alpha globulin; AFP
DefinitionThis is a blood test that measures the amount of alpha fetoprotein (AFP).
How the test is performed
Blood is drawn from a vein on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The puncture site is cleaned with antiseptic, and an elastic band is placed around the upper arm to apply pressure and restrict blood flow through the vein. This causes veins below the band to fill with blood.
A needle is inserted into the vein, and the blood is collected in an air-tight vial or a syringe. During the procedure, the band is removed to restore circulation. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.
How to prepare for the testThere is no special preparation.
For infants and children:
The preparation you can provide for this test depends on your child's age and previous experience. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics:
How the test will feelWhen the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
Why the test is performed
AFP is a protein normally produced by the liver and yolk sac of a fetus. AFP levels decrease soon after birth; AFP probably has no normal function in adults.
AFP is measured to:
During pregnancy, this test, along with the examination of amniotic fluid ( amniocentesis ), can help detect fetal spina bifida or other defects of the fetus' neural tube associated with elevated levels of AFP.
Normal ValuesMales or nonpregnant females: less than 40 micrograms/liter
What abnormal results meanGreater-than-normal levels of AFP may indicate:
What the risks are
The risks associated with having blood drawn are:
Special considerationsVeins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Update Date: 2/9/2004Frank A. Greco, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Biophysical Laboratory, The Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT