Understanding and addressing your risk factors for genetic conditions can be complex, but genetic counseling makes it easier. Discover how a genetic counselor can be a valuable partner to help you and your family recognize and adapt to genetic risk factors meaningfully, all with the goal of helping you stay as healthy as possible.
What is Genetic Counseling and Why is it Important?
Genetic counseling is a medical specialty that helps individuals and family members navigate their concerns about genetic conditions and associated health risks. But, why is genetic counseling important and how can it help you?
A certified genetic counselor has advanced training to:
Genetic counselors are valuable health care partners who families can access over time, depending on how needs change and develop.
Three Reasons Why Genetic Counseling is Important
Understanding your risk factors for genetic disorders can be complex, but genetic counseling is meant to make it easier. Genetic counseling helps you and your family recognize and adapt to genetic risk factors in an accurate and meaningful way. Genetic counseling is important to families in different ways, such as:
- Before and during a pregnancy, genetic counseling can help you learn your risks to have a child with genetic medical conditions, which may involve pregnancy genetic testing. A genetic counselor can guide your doctors to address genetic concerns during a pregnancy, such as if birth defects on a prenatal ultrasound scan suggest a genetic condition in the baby.
Addressing a family history of a genetic condition
- If your child (or other relative) has a genetic condition or symptoms to suggest one, a genetic counselor can help you and your family learn about the diagnosis and/or the possibility of genetic testing. This includes a careful review of genetic test results, specialized medical recommendations and any risk factors to relatives.
Proactively managing health
- Many medical conditions, like some forms of cancer and heart disease, have genetic links. Genetic counseling can help you proactively identify genetic risk factors, based on an expert review of your personal and family health histories. A genetic counselor can help you get appropriate genetic testing and address risks through personalized medical recommendations for you and your doctor to put into action.
Overall, genetic counseling is valuable for you and your family members to accurately know how genetics impacts your health, with a goal of keeping you as healthy as possible.
When is Genetic Counseling Important?
Your health and your family’s health can change over time, and so can your need for genetic counseling. Depending on the reason, the timing of genetic counseling makes a difference. The following are key reasons to be referred for genetic counseling right away:
During a pregnancy, if concerns for a genetic disorder come up because of a family history or physical signs in the baby
- How prenatal genetic counseling helps: A genetic counselor can determine genetic testing to confirm a diagnosis, which may identify a need for specialized care during and after the pregnancy.
If you or your child have test results or symptoms to suggest a genetic condition
- How genetic counseling helps: A genetic counselor can explain the complexities of your test results to you in a clear way, including the genetic condition you or your child may have. This can identify specialized medical care for you and your doctors to follow at the time and going forward.
If you have several relatives with cancer or heart disease, and you were recently diagnosed with cancer or heart disease
- How genetic counseling helps: A genetic counselor can help you learn if you have a genetic form of cancer or heart disease, and how genetic testing could help determine this for you and your family. This may identify a need for specific care or treatment to be discussed with your doctors.
Working with a genetic counselor is possible virtually through telemedicine services like secure video conferencing or over the phone. Genome Medical offers genetic counseling through its telemedicine (telegenetics) services, a flexible option that is especially valuable when a need is urgent.
How to Find a Genetic Counselor Today
Finding a genetic counselor when you need one is important, and there are different ways to access one:
- You can pursue genetic counseling directly to better understand genetic health risks coming from your family history or genetic test results
- You doctor can refer you for genetic counseling to discuss a genetic condition, genetic health risks or test results
- Your employer or health insurance plan may offer you genetic counseling as part of a genetic testing program
Genome Medical’s expert genetic guidance and flexible telemedicine services are available to individuals, medical professionals and employers/health insurance plans.
Have more questions or are interested in speaking with a genetic counselor?
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Deepti Babu, MS, CGC is a certified genetic counselor and founder of Integrity Content Consulting. She brings 20+ years of clinical expertise to her writing and editing about genetics, genomics, and their impact on health.