Whenever there’s a flurry in the news about genetic testing, we get calls from people who just want to know: What can a genetic test tell you?
There are different types of genetic tests. Genetic tests that screen for “risk” may not be commonly known, but for certain people at certain times, they can be very useful. Knowing whether you have a genetic risk can help you make medical and life decisions — such as planning a family, selecting a form of birth control or starting hormone replacement therapy.
Risk for Blood Clots: Studies estimate that 60,000 to 200,000 people die each year from blood clots, including DVTs and PEs. At the high end, this condition kills more people than breast cancer, car accidents and AIDS combined. Most people don’t know that 1 in 20 Americans carry the Factor V Leiden gene, which — when combined with medical choices (hormone replacement therapy, birth control pills) or lifestyle factors (obesity, smoking) increases their risk for dangerous blood clots. If you have a genetic propensity for blood clots, you can take action, make different decisions, reduce your risk.
Risk for Iron Overload. About 35 million people in the U.S. — as many as 1 in 4 people of Irish descent, and 1 in 10 Caucasians — are at risk for a hereditary iron overload disorder that causes a wide variety of symptoms, inculding chronic fatigue, weakness, joint pain and arthritis. If undetected, iron overload can lead to serious problems, including diabetes, liver and heart disease. But with early detection, effective treatment can stop the progression of iron overload and even reverse some of the symptoms.
These are just two examples of how knowing about your genes — in a particular context — can help you make better decisions and live a longer, healthier life.