Genetic Counseling

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What is Genetic Counseling?

Genetic counseling is an educational counseling process to help people learn about genetic conditions and make informed decisions about testing and treatment.

Genetic Counseling may involve the diagnosis of a genetic condition and provides information, support and guidance by a team of health professionals to individuals and their families so that they may be better able to adjust to a diagnosis.

What is a Genetic Counselor?

Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. They provide a critical service to individuals and families considering undergoing genetic testing by helping them identify their risks for certain disorders, investigate family health history, interpret information and determine if testing is needed.

Genetic counselors are here so you can understand your different testing options and the many different outcomes. They are not here to encourage or make you have testing. They are solely here to help you make an important decision regarding genetic testing that can impact many areas of your life.

Genetic counselors are also trained to provide counseling and support for people and families with genetic conditions.

Reasons for Genetic Counseling

There are many reasons that people go for genetic counseling, such as:

  • A family history of a genetic condition
  • To learn about genetic screening for diseases that are more common in certain ethnic groups
  • Steps to get ready for a healthy pregnancy and baby such as screening for genetic conditions
  • To learn about the higher chance for certain types of genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome during pregnancy
  • To discuss abnormal results from tests during pregnancy
  • To learn about the effects of being exposed to x-rays, chemicals, illness, or prescribed or illicit drugs while pregnant
  • A history of several miscarriages or infant deaths
  • Trouble getting pregnant (infertility)
  • A child has birth defects, disabilities, or conditions found by newborn screening

What Genetics Professionals Do

Some of the things a genetic counselor or clinical geneticist might do during a clinical visit include:

  • Ask questions about medical, family, and pregnancy history
  • Discuss how genetic conditions are passed down in the family
  • Explain chances of a genetic condition occurring or recurring within the family
  • Talk about birth defects and genetic conditions
  • Talk about illnesses and chemicals that can cause birth defects
  • Recommend and order tests that can help diagnose a condition, and explain test results
  • Discuss treatment options for a genetic condition
  • Help people deal with feelings about how genetic conditions affect their families
  • Answer medical questions and address emotional concerns
  • Explore reproductive options
  • Refer people to other resources for help

How do I decide whether I need to see a Genetic Counselor or a Geneticist?

Your healthcare provider may refer you to a Genetic Counselor or a Clinical Geneticist to help you with testing decisions and support issues.

Clinical Geneticists and Genetic Counselors often work together as part of a health care team. They diagnose and care for people with genetic conditions and give information and support to people with genetic conditions and their families.

Clinical Geneticists are medical doctors with special training in genetics. In addition to educating families about genetic conditions, they perform clinical exams and order lab tests to diagnose the causes of birth defects and other genetic conditions. They can explain how a genetic condition may affect a person and give advice about treatment options and recurrence risks for future pregnancies.

How do I find a genetic professional?

  • Your Doctor can help you find a Genetic Counselor or Clinical Geneticist in your area.
  • The nearest medical school or university medical center also often have affiliated genetic professionals, or can provide referrals to a genetic professional or genetics clinic.
  • These websites may help you locate a board-certified genetic specialist near you:


Genetic Testing Registry

The Genetic Testing Registry (GTR) provides a central location for voluntary submission of genetic test information by providers and includes an international directory of genetic testing laboratories.