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When to Seek Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling gives you information about health concerns that run in your family. It includes a review of family history, health history, pregnancy history, or all three. The goal of genetic counseling may be to:

  • Check your risk of having a baby with possible health problems

  • Explain what causes a health problem and how it is inherited

  • Discuss what tests are available

  • Figure out the outlook of a health problem

  • Manage your health needs

  • Treat a health problem

Counseling sessions usually last about an hour. But sessions can vary based on your specific health and family history. Genetic counseling can be given by:

  • A board-certified genetics doctor (clinical geneticist). This is a doctor with special training in genetics.

  • A genetic counselor. This is a person with special training (master's degree) in genetic counseling.

  • A healthcare provider with special training in genetic counseling in their specialty. For example, a provider who counsels on sickle cell disease, cancer, or differences found in the baby of a pregnant person.

You may get genetic counseling for any of the following:

Family history factors

Family history factors mean health issues that run in families. You may need this if you had a previous child born with:

  • Intellectual or learning disability

  • Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida

  • Chromosome problems, such as Down syndrome

  • Cleft lip or palate

  • Heart problems

  • Short height

  • Single gene defects, such as cystic fibrosis or phenylketonuria (PKU)

  • Hearing or vision problems

  • Mental health problems

  • Cancer

  • Other problems that could be considered genetic

You may also need this counseling if:

  • You have had multiple pregnancy losses. These include miscarriages, stillbirths, or infant deaths.

  • You or your partner has a genetic disorder, or any disorder seen in several generations.

  • Both you and your partner are carriers for a genetic disorder. This may be diagnosed by the birth of an affected child or by carrier screening.

  • The mother is a known or possible carrier of a genetic disorder, such as hemophilia.

  • Either you or your partner is a known carrier of a balanced chromosome problem.

Pregnancy factors

These include:

  • Birth parent is age 35 or older at delivery

  • Birth parent’s blood tests show a higher risk for neural tube defects, Down syndrome, or trisomy 18

  • Abnormal prenatal test results or ultrasound exam

  • Baby or parent being exposed to potentially harmful things. These include alcohol, illegal drugs, certain chemicals, radiation, or infection.

  • Older age of the birth parent's partner at the time of conception

  • Infertility cases where either parent may have a chromosome problem

  • Couples that need fertility treatments to get pregnant. Or people donating eggs or sperm for fertility treatments.

Some health issues that affect the birth parent also may affect the fetus or child. These include:

  • Brain or mood disorders

  • Blood disorders

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • High blood pressure

  • Seizures

  • Alcoholism

  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid disorder

Other factors

You may also need counseling for any of these things:

  • You are a member of certain ethnic groups. Or you live in areas where certain diseases are more common. These include cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell disease, and thalassemias.

  • You are very worried or fearful of having a child with a birth defect.

  • The pregnancy involves blood relatives or incest.

  • Your child may be at high risk for a genetic disorder based on your family or your personal health history. You may want to get premarital or preconception counseling.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chad Haldeman-Englert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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