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Should You See a Genetic Counselor?


If you're pregnant, you may already know a bit about genetic counseling. Genetic counseling takes both parents' health information into account, as well as family history, to determine the risks of the baby having certain genetic defects. While there's no guarantee that seeing a genetic counselor will eliminate all of your risks, with over 13,000 known gene disorders in the U.S. each year, you may want to consider undergoing genetic testing.

Women over the age of 35 are advised to undergo genetic testing. As your body ages, you're more likely to have a child with Down's Syndrome or other genetic abnormalities. These can usually be detected with an amniocentesis a thin needle inserted through the woman's abdomen to take a small sample of amniotic fluid.

Some ethnic groups carry higher risks of certain genetic disorders being passed down to their children. For example, Europeans have an increased risk of carrying the defective genes that cause cystic fibrosis and spina bifida. Other risks include a family history of a certain disorder or disease such as mental retardation or Tay-Sachs even if a child in your family previously died of unknown causes, your physician will likely refer you to a genetic counselor.

Your physician will probably give you a questionnaire to fill out when your pregnancy is confirmed. If you are referred to a genetic counselor, chances are it will be covered by your health insurance. If your doctor performs an ultrasound and sees something abnormal, you might be referred to a genetic counselor. If the baby's organs aren't developing properly, the doctor can often see this in your eight week ultrasound.

The genetic counselor will make a family tree, complete with past diseases and deformities present in both of your families. He or she will also calculate your risk of being carriers for certain abnormalities, based on your family and medical history. If both parents are a carrier for a genetic abnormality, further testing will be recommended.

It can be a difficult decision to seek genetic counseling. Some couples want to know all of the risks during pregnancy, so that they can make an informed decision about terminating or continuing the pregnancy. Others prefer to turn down genetic counseling, and deal with whatever condition their baby could have. Some conditions are fatal for infants, while others are responding very well to new advances in medical treatments. It's a very personal decision, and you and your spouse are the only ones who can make the choice that is right for you.

 


 
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