What Is Genetic Counseling?
Genetics is the study of heredity, the process of a parent passing certain genes on to their children.
- A person's appearance, such as height, hair color, skin color, and eye color, are determined by genes.
- Birth defects and certain diseases are also often determined by genes.
Genetic counseling is the process where parents can learn more about:
- How likely it will be that their child would have a genetic disorder
- What tests can check for genetic defects or disorders
- Deciding whether or not you would like to haven these tests
Couples who want to have a baby can have tests before they get pregnant. Health care providers can also test a fetus (unborn baby) to see if the baby will have a genetic disorder, such as cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome.
Who May Want Genetic Counseling?
It is up to you whether or not to have genetic counseling and testing. You will want to think about your personal desires, religious beliefs, and family circumstances.
Some people have a greater risk than others for passing on genetic disorders to their children. They are:
- People who have family members or children with genetic or birth defects
- Jews of Eastern European descent. They may have a high risk of having babies with Tay-Sachs or Canavan's disease.
- African-Americans, who may risk passing sickle-cell anemia (blood disease) on to their children
- People of Southeast Asian or Mediterranean origin, who are at a higher risk of having children with thalassemia, a blood disease
- Women who were exposed to toxins (poisons) that could cause birth defects
- Women with a health problem, such as diabetes, that may affect their fetus
- Couples who have had three of more miscarriages (fetus dies before 20 weeks of pregnancy)
Testing is also suggested for:
- Women who are over the age of 35, though genetic screening is now recommended for women of all ages.
- Women who have had abnormal results on pregnancy screening, such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)
Talk about genetic counseling with your provider and your family. Ask questions you may have about the test and what the results will mean for you.