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I'm worried - will an inherited condition affect my baby?

Posted by Be Well

I'm worried - will an inherited condition affect my baby?
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Children inherit many characteristics from their parents, such as the color of their eyes and hair color, and their height and build. Sometimes, a child can inherit a health condition. This happens when a gene changes (mutates) and is passed down through a family. Each generation of children can inherit the gene that causes the condition. A baby can inherit defective genes from one or both of its parents.

Most inherited conditions are quite rare, affecting one person in every several thousands or millions of people.

Inherited conditions

There are more than 6,000 known single- gene inherited conditions. Single gene means that the condition is caused by changes (mutations) that occur in the DNA of one gene.

Some conditions can be inherited from just one parent, such as Huntington's disease and Marfan syndrome. Most inherited conditions cannot occur unless both the mother and father pass on the defective gene; these include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy and Tay-Sachs disease.

Inherited conditions can happen unexpectedly. Both parents can be healthy and unknowingly carry a defective gene, which can be passed on to their baby, meaning the baby can be born with the inherited condition.

There are some genetic conditions, such as Down's syndrome, that are usually not inherited. These generally result from a change in cells (mutation) when the cells divide in the earliest stages of pregnancy.

Getting advice

If you know that an inherited condition runs in your family, it's a good idea to seek advice before you try for a baby. Your doctor can offer advice about the risks of you passing on the condition. Depending on the type of condition, your doctor may recommend that you see a specialist for further testing or help, such as genetic testing or genetic counseling.

If you're already pregnant, your doctor can give you advice about prenatal screening, for example, where there is a strong family history of conditions such as muscular dystrophy, spina bifida or congenital heart defects.

Your doctor may ask you for a complete family medical history. If you don't already know, you will need to find out as much information as you can. For each family member, write down:

  • their sex,
  • their date of birth,
  • their ethnic origin,
  • the dates of any medical problems,
  • the diagnosis, and
  • if appropriate, the cause and date of their death.

Ideally, the information you give your doctor should cover your brothers and sisters (if you have any), your parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. You doctor may also ask you about:

  • any miscarriages,
  • children in your family who have died, and
  • half-brothers and sisters.

If a hereditary condition runs in your partner's family, you will need to find out this information about his family too.

NOTICE: The information provided on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on Wellsphere. If you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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