What Genetic Testing Can Reveal About Your Health

Companies like 23andMe and Ancestry have made the idea of genetic testing common, widely available, and popular. However, consumer genetic tests like those and the genetic testing that is done for medical purposes are quite different. 

There are certainly important medical reasons for genetic testing, and in this post we examine what you might learn from undergoing genetic testing. 

At the Osteopathic Center for Healing, Dr. Neil Spiegel, physician assistant Jennifer Gularson, and the rest of our staff work to help all of our patients reach and maintain optimal health by offering a range of services. In some cases, genetic testing can offer important information toward that goal. 

Reasons for medical genetic testing

When a physician orders a genetic test, it’s often in an effort to diagnose a problem. Certain diseases, like cystic fibrosis, can be confirmed through genetic testing. In other instances, genetic testing may help diagnose an unidentified issue. 

Your provider may also order genetic testing if you have a family history of a specific disorder, such as breast cancer. Having specific genes can help you understand your risk of developing some conditions and guide your medical care. 

Similarly, genetic testing may reveal whether or not you’re a carrier of a specific gene that causes a medical condition, such as sickle cell anemia. You may use this information to help you decide whether you want to have biological children.

Another growing reason for genetic testing is to learn how your body processes certain medications. This information can be critical in determining the doses and types of medications you need if you have certain conditions or diseases.

If you’re pregnant, your doctor may suggest prenatal genetic testing to learn more about the health of your baby. Prenatal genetic testing can screen for conditions such as trisomy 18 and Down syndrome.

There are other reasons for genetic testing in a medical setting, but these are some of the most common ones at this time. As the scientific research on genes and our understanding of genetics continues to grow, there’s no doubt the reasons to perform the tests will also grow.

Consumer genetic testing

Many of the available direct-to-consumer genetic test kits claim to provide information about your health, but there are reasons to be somewhat skeptical. The results often have to do with information the company has collected and analyzed in other genetic tests, and there are a slew of factors that could be involved. Environmental factors, genetic variations that haven’t been analyzed, lifestyle factors, and many others can skew the results one way or another. 

This doesn’t mean that the information you get from a consumer genetic test isn’t useful. If your results show that you have an increased risk of developing something like hypertension or heart disease, you can make lifestyle changes to decrease that risk.

You may not want to know

There are some pieces of information that you may not want, and that’s an important consideration. For example, we don’t fully understand Alzheimer’s or dementia, and there are few specific changes you can make to avoid developing either, so you may not want to learn that you have a high risk for them.

If you have your whole genome sequenced, you should definitely discuss the pros and cons with an expert. That way you’ll understand what information will be revealed and whether you’d like to be informed of certain results. 

In the future

Considering the future of health care in the light of genetic testing is exciting. Your genetic code contains the instructions for your body. There are, of course, ways you can make things better or worse for your health, but once researchers have a firm understanding of what our genetic codes reveal, we’ll have more tools for staying healthy.

At Osteopathic Center for Healing, we always look at each person’s health from a whole-person perspective. Even if you have an identical set of problems as someone else, the treatment is likely to differ. Genetic testing gives us one more tool to understand you as an individual.

If you have questions about genetic testing and your health, schedule an appointment with us at the Osteopathic Center for Healing in Rockville, Maryland. We’re happy to answer your questions and to discuss your health in the context of your life.

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