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There are many medical tests that can help you find answers to why certain people in your family may have similar health issues. Genetic testing is one of these tests.

What is genetic testing?

Genes are something that we all have inside our bodies. Your genes determine how tall you are, how you laugh, whether you have wavy or straight hair, and the color of your eyes. Your genes also contain instructions that help your body function normally.  We pass our genes down to our children. 

Genetic testing is a type of medical test that looks at your genes to see if there are changes that may cause certain diseases. The results of this test can tell you if you have a condition that your doctor needs to watch for. It can also give you and your doctor information on ways to take care of you that could include other tests to help catch a health issue early for you or your loved ones.

When to think about genetic testing

There are many good reasons for you or your doctor to want to have genetic testing done. 

  • If you are currently healthy, but after talking to your family about what conditions run in your family, you want to check if you have changes in your genes that may cause the condition in the future.
  • If you have a medical condition, genetic testing could help identify the cause of your condition and help your doctor do a better job treating the condition.
  • If you are pregnant or want to have children, genetic testing can help you know the chance of passing on a genetic condition to your children.
  • Genetic testing can give you information to share with other family members so they can learn about their chance of passing on a genetic condition.
  • Genetic testing can help with finding ongoing research which may lead to new and better treatment for your condition.

What to think about before having genetic testing

There are certain things you need to think about before having genetic testing. It is important to understand the risks and benefits of genetic testing. These are a few questions you can discuss with your doctor:

  • Ask for a general description of the test. What is the test looking at? Will it look at a few genes or a lot of genes at the same time? Will it be specific for one medical condition or several conditions?
  • What will the medical test (or sample) be like? (Will it be a blood sample or saliva (spit) test?)
  • What kind of answers could the test give me? What happens if the test does not provide me with the answers I was hoping for?
  • What will happen to my sample after the test is complete?
  • Are there any physical or emotional risks associated with the test? 
  • Will my test results be used for research purposes?
  • Do I want to share my results with family members? If so, how can I do this?
  • Would my family members want to hear about the results? What is the right decision for me and my family?
  • Do the results provide information for other family members and how can I share that with them if that is the right decision for me?
  • What is the cost of genetic testing and what are the different ways to pay for it?

Learning about your family’s medical history is important. Get tips on how to start a conversation with your family, a list of questions to ask, and additional information about why learning about your family health history is important.

Learn More

Learn more about how genetic counselors, a personal guide for you, can answer your questions, explain hard information, and help you find ways to pay for tests.

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