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Health Information For Parents
Pregnant women may be amazed at the number and variety of prenatal tests available. Blood tests, urine tests, monthly medical exams, screening tests, and family history tracking all help to assess the health of a mom and her baby.
Genetic tests identify the likelihood of parents passing a genetic disease or disorder to their children. If your history suggests that genetic testing would be helpful, you may be referred to a genetic counselor. Or, you might choose to get genetic counseling yourself.
Genetic counseling is the process of:
and medical records
Genetic tests are done by analyzing small samples of blood or body tissues. They determine whether you, your partner, or your baby carry genes for some inherited disorders.
Genes are made up of DNA molecules, which are the building blocks of heredity. They’re grouped together in specific patterns within a person’s chromosomes, forming the unique “blueprint” for every physical and biological characteristic of that person.
Humans have 46 chromosomes, arranged in pairs in every living cell of our bodies. When the egg and sperm join at conception, half of each chromosomal pair is inherited from each parent. This newly formed combination of chromosomes then copies itself again and again during fetal growth and development, passing identical genetic information to each new cell in the growing fetus.
Current science suggests that every human has about 25,000 genes per cell. An error in just one gene (and in some instances, even a change in a single piece of DNA) can sometimes be the cause for a serious medical condition.
Genetic tests yield complex results. Understanding what they mean is where a genetic counselor comes in.
Genetic counselors are professionals who have completed a master’s program in medical genetics and counseling skills. They then pass a certification exam administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
Genetic counselors can help:
They will explain the meaning of the medical science involved and provide support. If you haven’t had genetic tests done yet, they may refer you to a doctor or a lab.
Most couples planning a pregnancy or who are expecting don’t need genetic counseling. About 3% of babies are born with birth defects each year, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many problems that happen are treatable. Cleft palate and clubfoot, two of the more common birth defects, can be surgically repaired, as can many heart defects.
The best time for genetic counseling is before a woman becomes pregnant. The counselor can help her understand any risk factors. But even during pregnancy, a meeting with a genetic counselor can be helpful.
Experts recommend that all pregnant women, regardless of age or circumstance, be offered genetic counseling and testing to screen for Down syndrome.
It’s especially important to consider genetic counseling if:
Before you meet with a genetic counselor in person, you may be asked to gather information about your family history. The counselor will want to know of any relatives with genetic disorders, multiple miscarriages, and early or unexplained deaths. The counselor will also want to look over your medical records, including any ultrasounds, prenatal test results, past pregnancies, and medicines you took before or during pregnancy.
When you meet with the counselor, you’ll go over any gaps or potential problem areas in your family or medical history. The counselor can help you understand the inheritance patterns of disorders and help assess your chances of having a child with those disorders.
The counselor will talk about risks that every pregnancy faces and risks that you personally face. Even if you discover you have a particular problem gene, science can’t always predict the severity of the related disease. For instance, a child with cystic fibrosis can have debilitating lung problems or, less commonly, milder respiratory symptoms.
If more tests are needed, the counselor will help you set up those appointments and track the paperwork. When the results come in, the counselor will call you with the news and may ask you to come in for another discussion.
Genetic counselors can help you understand your options and adjust to any uncertainties you face. But you and your family will decide what to do next.
If you’ve learned before conception that you and/or your partner are at high risk for having a child with a severe or fatal defect, your options might include:
If you’ve had a diagnosis of a severe or fatal defect after conception, your options might include:
Genetic counselors can share the experiences they’ve had with other families in your situation. But they will not suggest a particular course of action. A genetic counselor understands that what is right for one family may not be right for another.
Genetic counselors can, however, refer you to specialists for further help. Genetic counselors can also refer you to social workers, support groups, or mental health professionals to help you adjust to and prepare for your complex new reality.
Working with a genetic counselor can be reassuring and informative, especially if you or your partner have known risk factors. Talk to your doctor if you feel you would benefit from genetic counseling.
Many doctors have a list of local genetic counselors they work with. You also can contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors for more information.
Advances in genetic testing help doctors diagnose and treat certain illnesses. The type of test done depends on which condition a doctor checks for.
Read the basics about genetics, including how certain illnesses, or increased risks for certain illnesses, pass from generation to generation.
Some birth defects are minor and cause no problems; others cause major disabilities. Learn about the different types of birth defects, and how to help prevent them.
Every parent-to-be hopes for a healthy baby, but it can be hard not to worry. Find out what tests can keep you informed of your health â and your baby’s â throughout pregnancy.
Find out what tests may be offered to you during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Find out what tests may be offered to you during weeks 27 through 40 of pregnancy.
Find out what tests may be offered to you during weeks 13 through 26 of pregnancy.
Alpha thalassemia is a blood disorder in which the body has a problem producing alpha globin, a component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body.
If your child has a birth defect, you don’t have to go it alone – many people and resources are available to help you.
Gene therapy carries the promise of cures for many diseases and for types of medical treatment most of us would not have thoughtÂ possible.
Many things can cause a baby to be born early or with health problems. Some of these things can be controlled, but others canât. Find out what you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.
What should women who are planning a pregnancy do before they conceive? Find out here.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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