Every little gene matters
To understand the importance of genetic counseling, parents must have a quick overview of the importance of genes. Genes are the body’s data that determines a child’s characteristics like hair color, height, and eye color. Each cell contains pairs of structures called chromosomes, made of DNA, which hold genetic information. A healthy fetus has 46 chromosomes in each cell, created in pairs. The fetus inherits equal pairs of chromosomes and genes from each parent. Should even one gene contain a defect, the result could be a serious medical condition, illness, or syndrome.
Getting a genetic check-up
So what is genetic counseling exactly? Genetic counseling helps determine first if there are any possible disorders a parent can pass onto a child. From there, potential parents can take the necessary steps to prepare for these issues. In some cases, the condition is treatable. Genetic counseling typically happens before pregnancy, and hopeful parents will see a genetic counselor. These counselors are trained medical professionals who can request genetic testing, review tests, explain potential risks, and provide guidance. Everyone may not need genetic counseling. But these 3 risk factors should encourage hopeful parents to seek support.
1. Watch your family history
If either parent has inherited a congenital disability, genetic counseling must be considered. The same goes for if the parents already have a child with a genetic disorder. Common inherited conditions include sickle cell disease, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, or Huntington’s disease. Parents can also pass on certain cancers, eye diseases, and conditions like epilepsy. Even diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity can be inherited. If any of these conditions run in the family, genetic counseling may be best.
2. Previous pregnancy loss
Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of miscarriages happen every year. About 1 in 5 known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Losing a baby can be devastating, and for some women, the issue has happened on more than one occasion. Women with 2 or more miscarriages, in particular, should get counseling before getting pregnant again. Chromosome abnormalities can be the cause of pregnancy loss. While most women go on to have healthy babies, some are at risk for future miscarriages.
3. The risk over 35
The risk of genetic disorders is closely linked with age, particularly the age of the mother. Studies show that women at age 20 have a 3% chance of having a baby with a genetic defect. This figure increases to as much as 30% in women aged 40 and above. Women age 35 and above are also at risk of miscarriages. Genetic testing and counseling could help older parents be more prepared.
Dealing with genetic complications
A genetic counselor reviews family and medical history and genetic tests. From there, all parties can try different treatments to reduce the chances of a congenital anomaly. For instance, women with multiple miscarriages may benefit from in vitro fertilization (IVF), along with a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Others may need to consider IVF with donor sperm and eggs. Overall, parents must have a serious discussion of the risks involved with pregnancy. There are a range of options, including support groups, that can help. Genetic counseling is a responsible step for the health and wellness of the baby and family. Speak with a doctor about any concerns today.