Do I Need Genetic Counseling?

Genetic counseling is an assessment of the risk you carry for passing on inheritable diseases to potential children. This is a specialized field and requires a health care professional who has had special training in this area and who is qualified to pinpoint which families may be at risk, investigate problem patterns within a family, evaluate information relating to any disorders, assess the risks for recurrence, and explain all options to the couple in question.

Small Statistic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites a figure of just 3% for babies born within the United States who are found to have a birth defect. Happily, that's a very small statistic. Because such defects are rare, most couples planning to become pregnant don't require genetic counseling. You don't need preconception genetic counseling unless you have one or more of these risk factors:

*Either partner has a child with a genetic disorder or birth defect

*The mother-to-be is older than 35

*A close relative has an inherited disease

Certain ethnic groups have a higher risk for specific genetic diseases:

*Middle Eastern, Greek, or Italian heritage: Thalassemia

*Jews of Central or Eastern European heritage: Tay-Sachs disease

*African Americans: Sickle Cell Anemia

Working Together

During the course of genetic counseling you should expect to work together to build a comprehensive medical history of both partners' blood relatives, focusing on diseases and the reasons for which they may have occurred. Here are some of the questions you should expect:

*Are your parents living? Are they healthy?

*What is your ethnic heritage?

*Do you have a history for having multiple births, cancer, hypertension, or diabetes?

*Have any of your relatives experienced any pregnancy problems?

*Are there specific diseases that look as though they may run in your family?

*Do you have any family members who are mentally handicapped or have any other birth defect?

*Does anyone in your family suffer from genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, or cystic fibrosis?

*Do you have any specific ideas on why you think you might have a baby with a birth defect?

Specific Traits

You may be wondering about the exact nature of genes. In short, a gene is a part of DNA that contains code. This code serves to pass on specific traits, such as eye color. The genes are the most basic building materials of your heredity. Genes fall into groupings, creating individual patterns in a person's chromosomes. They make the blueprint for each characteristic, both biological and physical of the particular person.

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