As advances are made in pre-natal care, genetics, and medical technology, new parents, and those contemplating pregnancy are finding an ever-increasing array of potential testing options. One such option, genetic counseling, is a complex process comprised of interpretation of family medical history, education, and counseling. The goal of genetic counseling is not only to assess risk of an inherited condition, but also to explain the cause and inheritance of a disorder, the availability of testing, the prognosis, medical management, and treatment. Genetic counseling can be provided by a geneticist, by a doctor with special training and Board Certification in genetics, or by genetic counselors. Genetic counselors work as part of the medical team and may refer families to other professionals along the way.
Individuals may choose to participate in the genetic counseling process for numerous reasons, most often due to factors related to their personal family history and/or a need for information to allay fears or to plan for the future. For example, a couple may have a child or family history of individuals with autism, cleft lip or palate, heart defects, or neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Individuals with pregnancy risk factors, such as advanced maternal age or abnormal prenatal test results, may also wish to undergo genetic counseling in order to make the best decisions for their family.
Should testing or risks indicate a likelihood of an inherited condition, or other disorder, part of the genetic counseling process may involve meeting with other professionals or individuals. These might include meeting other families with children with the same condition, or visiting a neurodevelopmental therapy program to discuss therapy options for children with Down Syndrome or Autism. Such connections at the prenatal stage can be invaluable as a means of understanding the wide array of options available to them after the birth. Just as advances are being made in the prenatal diagnosis of conditions, advances are being made in the treatment of such conditions.
Good prenatal care is the cornerstone of any pregnancy and genetic counseling can be an important piece of that care for many women, and their families. Good pre-natal care and the information provided through genetic counseling can help a mother-to-be to be as mentally and physically fit as possible for herself and for her new, growing family. If you have questions or concerns related to genetic counseling please discuss this with your physician or another healthcare provider.