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Understanding The Role Of A Genetic Counselor

posted on 7/3/2016 Facebook Facebook

People often hesitate to share their health problems with others, even sometimes their doctors. The reluctance in sharing symptoms of piles, fertility, and sexual issues is a common sight in many clinics. However, what most of us don’t understand is that this very information that we are too shy to share can play a lion’s share in our diagnosis and hence treatment.

With growing advancements in medicine, however, the doctor-patient gap is exponentially decreasing. As genetic testing is slowly becoming a norm in the healthcare system, there is a great demand for professionally trained medical experts who can help people make sense of their genetic reports. This is where genetic counselors come into the picture. 

Who Is A Genetic Counselor?
Genetic counselors work with doctors and other members of the health care team to help patients understand what their family history means to them, decide which genetic tests to take, and know how to use the test results to make the best treatment choices. Genetic counselors are specifically trained to answer the most sensitive questions related to an individual’s health. They collaborate with various specialties such as oncology, cardiology, prenatal, neurology etc. 

When Should I See A Genetic Counselor? 
A genetic counseling session often forms a part of genetic testing and is held both before and after the test. Most genetic counseling is provided in-person to an individual, couple, or family, typically in a clinic or doctor’s office. Your genetic counselor will help you understand the finer details of a genetic test, your family history, and the link between genetics, diseases, and your health. A trip to the genetic counselor’s office would be beneficial if one or more of the following is true for you or your family:
  • History of one or more cancer
  • Early onset of diseases in the family
  • If three or more relatives from the same side of the family have the same cancer
  • If you’re planning a pregnancy
  • A strong genetic mutation is confirmed in a family member
  • If you have a medical condition which has a strong genetic predisposition and want to learn whether you could pass the same to your children
What Happens During A Genetic Counseling Session?
Genetic counseling sessions are offered in-person with the concerned individual either in the presence of a family member or without. Depending on the specific reason for your consultation the genetic counselor will mostly start by drawing your family tree depending on the information you provide. Here are a few things that the genetic counselor will do:
  • Review your personal and family medical history
  • Answer your specific concerns about genetic disease
  • Identify any potential risk and discuss the possibilities of inheritance of diseases
  • Explain the various testing options and review the best ones for you
  • Examine prevention strategies and management of diseases
  • Provide supportive counseling to help you with queries related to the consultation
How Can I Get The Most Out Of A Genetic Counseling Session?  
Depending on whether you are going for a pre-test or a post-test session, a little preparation can help you better understand things. 
  • Speak to your family members and immediate relatives to understand your medical history.
  • Try and gather as many facts about your medical history as possible
  • Bring a list of questions to your appointment
Genetic counselors understand the confusion that surrounds most of the patients when diagnosed with a genetic disease. Their professional expertise aid in facilitating the decision-making process at the individual level and help patients understand genetic test results and what they mean for them and their family.

1. National Society of Genetic Counselors; Genetic Alliance. Making Sense of Your Genes: A Guide to Genetic Counselling. Washington (DC): Genetic Alliance; 2008. General and pediatric genetic counseling. Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK115510/
2. Fraser, F. C. (1974). Genetic counseling. American Journal of Human Genetics, 26(5), 636–661.
3. Genetic Alliance; District of Columbia Department of Health. Understanding Genetics: A District of Columbia Guide for Patients and Health Professionals. Washington (DC): Genetic Alliance; 2010 Feb 17. Chapter 4, Genetic Counseling.Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK132139/
4. Ciarleglio LJ, Bennett RL, Williamson J, Mandell JB, Marks JH. Genetic counseling throughout the life cycle. J Clin Invest. 2003 Nov;112(9):1280-6. PubMed PMID: 14597751; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC228480.

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