Do you blame your height or wide hips on your family tree? Maybe you should. A lot of who we are is largely dictated by our parents, grandparents and their ancestors as well. For example, research in the early 21st century reveals that if you have a parent who is nearsighted then there is a 20% chance you will be nearsighted also. If both your parents suffer from nearsightedness, your odds grow to 33%. To further prove the link between genetics and physiological traits or health conditions, if neither of your parents are nearsighted, there is only a 2.5% likelihood that you will be.
Your gene pool, genetics, don’t necessarily translate into physical, mental and personality characteristics. What the interpretation of your genetic makeup can do is reveal probabilities.
Frequently, doctors misdiagnose illness. Sometimes patients spend years or even decades treating the wrong health conditions. This is just one instance where interpreting genetics for health reasons could reveal the true cause of the condition.
Undergoing genetic testing can make a huge difference in quality of life where mental health issues like dementia are concerned. If a young person finds that Huntington’s disease has been experienced in his family tree, he can take steps to fight the development of that condition. Huntington’s disease and other forms of dementia have a 50% chance of being passed from one generation to another. Early genetic testing could provide decades of preventive measures and preparation for the onset of this condition if it were to eventually occur.
This example shows why interpreting the data from genetic tests can be so important for helping you live a happier, healthier and longer life. Here are a few commonly asked questions people ask when they are considering undergoing genetic testing as a preventive and treatment measure for better health.
Q: What is genetic testing?
A: Genetic testing identifies gene mutations and other types of changes in a person’s genes, chromosomes and proteins. These tests can help you tell whether you possess the likelihood for developing a number of health conditions. It can also rule out suspected problems. There are more than 1,000 types of genetic tests used to help people improve their health mentally and physically.
Q: What are the health benefits of genetic testing?
A: The US National Library of Medicine publishes a Genetics Home Reference resource online. This organization tells us that you can reap health benefits from genetic testing whether your results are negative or positive for some type of gene mutation. Uncertainty and the fear of a potential disease or diagnosis causes a lot of unneeded stress and anxiety which can be alleviated when you get your hands on the data from your genetic tests.
For instance, if you find that you test negatively for some genetic disposition that you were afraid you had, this can keep you from experiencing sleepless nights and scheduling unnecessary doctor’s appointments, check-ups and screening tests. A positive result arms you with powerful information that can help you prevent, monitor and treat a condition for maximum health.
Q: What are some common types of genetic tests?
A: Newborn screening is one type of genetic testing that can identify possible disorders and health conditions so the earliest available treatment can be given. Phenylketonuria is a debilitating mental disorder that can cause serious problems if not treated. With treatment it can be defeated, and this genetic disorder is one of many problems which can be spotted with newborn genetic screening.
Diagnostic testing is a genetic test which can locate or eliminate the presence of gene and chromosome mutations and other issues which could lead to health problems. Carrier testing identifies those individuals with a gene mutation that can cause a genetic disorder when they produce a child with another person that has the same gene mutation.
Prenatal testing can identify preventive and treatment methods to improve the health of a newborn. Forensic testing is a genetic testing process which identifies DNA sequences for use in legal matters. As mentioned earlier, there are several hundred genetic tests, and more are being developed regularly.
Q: What do I have to do to get a genetic test?
A: Perhaps you want to know if you are more or less inclined to develop a certain health condition than most people. Maybe there are instances of a serious health concern in your family tree, and you want to know the likelihood that you will also suffer from that health problem, so you can begin preventive practices.
Once you have decided to move forward with genetic testing, your doctor or a medical geneticist will take a sample of your blood, skin or hair. Some other type of tissue or fluid may be collected. The specimen will be sent to a laboratory so changes in DNA, proteins, chromosomes and cellular structure can be identified.
The results are sent to your doctor, who will then schedule a consultation session. It is highly recommended that you understand the limitations, benefits and procedure for any genetic test before you go through the process. Tests for certain conditions are more or less reliable and predictive than genetic tests used to identify other health problems.
Q: My doctor talked to me about Informed Consent. What is that?
A: Doctors will often have you sign a number of forms before any procedure takes place. Many times this is a step to protect them legally. With genetic testing, your doctor or caregiver wants you to fully understand the procedure involved, what you can expect from the test results, and any possible consequences that can come about as a product of a test.
This educational process is called informed consent. You and your doctor sign a document that simply says you have been fully informed about everything involving the test you’re going to take, and what happens when you get the results. This basically means you are giving your voluntary agreement to have the test done.
Q: Are there any at-home genetic testing products?
A: Yes. The problem with this approach is that you are the one who is charged with interpreting your results.
Q: Is there any way to tell if my test results are valid?
A: Armed with your genetic testing data, you may be ready to make some big life decisions. This kind of data can help you map a course for your future that involves drastic lifestyle changes and this is not a move that should be taken lightly. Because of this, you may be wondering how you can tell if the results from your test are correct.
With so many genetic tests available, there are a few things you want to look for.
- Clinical Validity
Genetic testing is clinically valid when it is very good at identifying the absence or presence of a disease, or the risk of developing that disease.
- Analytical Validity
We mentioned earlier that some genetic testing procedures are much better than others at identifying potential problems. Some are very good at locating a genetic condition that usually leads to the development of a very particular health issue. Some tests are not as reliable. Where a particular genetic test has been used in the past and there are decades of data to study, your doctor can tell you how accurate that particular test is going to be for determining if a genetic profile is present or absent.
Genetic tests that have been used for years are known to produce a particular percentage of reliability. If you order a genetic test that is well-known and widely used, your doctor will be able to tell you that the results will deliver a very reliable picture of what is going on with your genetic makeup. For tests that are relatively new or that have not been commonly used, the analysis of the test results as far as being able to predict a condition will not be as analytically valid.
- Clinical Utility
This speaks to the value of the information you receive. In other words, how good is a specific test at giving you actionable information that leads to accurate diagnosis, treatment and management of a disease or illness.
The at-home genetic testing products are not monitored as strictly as the genetic tests your doctor can administer or recommend. Direct-to-consumer genetic tests in the United States are not certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) that strictly monitor quality control, testing procedures and laboratory personnel qualifications.
Q: Will insurance pay for my genetic testing?
A: The more common a genetic test is, the more likely that your health insurance will foot the bill. There are many cases where health insurance plans cover any associated costs of genetic testing. If your doctor recommends a particular test, there is a much better chance your insurance company will pay for it rather than if it is an elective test that you have decided on taking without the recommendation of a physician or caregiver.
Alzheimer’s can be inherited. Other forms of dementia can as well. To some extent, how tall you are is dictated by your parents, grandparents and even earlier generations in your family tree. This makes sense when you think about it. Unless there is cross-pollination, a rosebush produces other rosebushes, and not some other type of flower. Accordingly, your genetic makeup has a lot to do with the genetic profile of the people who created you, and their parents and grandparents also.
In many cases, knowing the specifics about certain genetic data can help you take steps to prevent illness and disease. Interpreting genetics can also help you treat conditions once they develop. Considered a form of alternative healing, genetics testing and interpretation often complement conventional medicine. Ask your doctor for more information about genetics testing to provide yourself with one more weapon in your fight for better health and wellness.