Genetic counselors are certified medical professionals who give information and offer emotional support to women who are pregnant (or planning to become pregnant) and their families. Genetic counseling serves to help mothers, couple, or families make important medical decisions based on family medical history or genetic testing.
You may consider scheduling an appointment if:
- You have received abnormal results on a prenatal test or carrier screening test
- You or your partner are from an ethnic group with a higher-than-average risk for a genetic disorder
- You have a child with a genetic disorder
- You have a history of pregnancy losses or trouble conceiving
Genetic counselors can provide neutral, unbiased information about many different types of genetic conditions, explain test results and offer emotional support. In order to offer you the best possible care, your counselor may ask for in-depth documentation of yours and your partner’s family history. Gathering as much information as possible and then organizing it can help your counselor see patterns or risk factors that could be passed down. Here are some tips for organizing your family’s medical history:
Who to ask:
Start by talking to your first-degree relatives. This includes yours and your partner’s mother, father, brothers and sisters. From there, branch out to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and step-siblings.
What to ask:
Not everyone will volunteer information easily. It can be difficult for older relatives to recall details, or they may not realize that a family member’s health problems are worth mentioning. Some questions you can ask to get the most information include:
- Did anyone have any babies that miscarried or were stillborn?
- Did you or anyone in the family have trouble getting pregnant?
- Where does our family come from? What is our ethnic background?
- Does anyone have heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure?
- Do you have any history of cancer or strokes?
Also record the ages and causes of death for as many relatives as possible. Ask your grandparents about their parents and include that information.
Once everything is collected, try to record it in an organized way that will make it easy for you to review later. You may consider My Family Health Portrait—a tool developed by the U.S. Surgeon General or use one of many apps to keep information at your fingertips.
Your genetic counselor may also give you a questionnaire to complete. Do your best to answer the questions as completely as you can. This information, combined with test results will help provide a more accurate picture of your genetic profile.