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3 things you need to know about at-home genetic tests

Like, what they can tell you and what you can do with that information?

April 13, 2017

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Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made big news when it said DNA testing company 23andMe could sell genetic tests direct to consumers.

These tests look at a person’s DNA to see if they are at risk for developing a certain disease or condition. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and celiac disease are three of the big ones.

Genetic testing is a growing and complex part of health care. It’s true that the right genetic test can greatly benefit patient care. But, it’s equally true that a genetic test might not always be needed or helpful.

Shellie Kieke, PhD, MS, CGC is one of our certified laboratory genetic counselors at HealthPartners. She offers three tips before doing an at-home genetic test.

  1. Understand what the test can and cannot tell you about disease risk. For example, a 23andMe test can provide information about diseases you “might” get in the future. But, an increased risk doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop the disease. Chat with your doctor first about what you want to learn from the test. They can help you figure out if taking the test will actually give you the answers you’re looking for, or if a test ordered by your doctor might be more informative. Another important consideration is your family health history, which can also affect your risk for an inherited disease.
  2. Consider whether you want to know your risk of developing a disease that may be serious, yet does not currently have a treatment or cure. It’s important to consider whether a genetic test will help or not. In some cases, having information about an increased risk for a serious disease can do more harm than good. For some people, it causes a lot of unneeded stress or anxiety.
  3. Think about what you’ll do with the information. An at-home genetic test won’t tell you what to do about your results. That’s why it’s usually best to meet with your doctor or a genetic counselor before you take an at-home genetic test. They can help you figure out what the results of a test really mean for you and your family.

When it comes to at-home genetic tests, most genetic counselors and doctors don’t recommend them. But that doesn’t mean your doctor can’t be a resource for you. If you’ve done an at-home test and have questions, check with your doctor. From there, they can help you decide if meeting with a genetic counselor is a good next step.

Make an appointment with your doctor

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