Prenatal Genetic Counseling and Assessment

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  • 0:01 Genetic Counseling
  • 1:03 Who Needs It
  • 3:11 What to Expect
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When expecting a baby, many couples are concerned with the possibility of something being wrong with the baby's health. In this lesson, we'll explore genetic counseling, including who should consider it and what to expect.

Genetic Counseling

Carrie is expecting a baby, and she and her husband John are very excited. But they're also a little nervous. Carrie has had a few miscarriages, and she's almost 40, which means that she's at risk for another miscarriage. Not only that, if she doesn't miscarry, the baby is at risk for some types of health problems just because of Carrie's age.

Carrie and John might want to consider genetic counseling, or seeing a specialist to get advice about the possibilities of genetic disorders in an unborn child. Genetic disorders are health or developmental issues caused by problems with the genome of a person. They include everything from Down's syndrome, to cystic fibrosis, to muscular dystrophy, to sickle-cell anemia and others.

So, why should Carrie and John consider genetic counseling? And what can they expect when they meet with a genetic counselor? To answer these questions, let's look closer at genetic counseling.

Who Needs It

Carrie and John are worried because she's had some miscarriages and because she's in her late 30s, which is not the optimal time to have a baby. But they are also very excited about the pregnancy and want to make sure that everything goes well. They've heard that they should consider genetic counseling, but they aren't sure. How can they know if they should have genetic counseling?

There are several risk factors during pregnancy that could cause a person to need genetic counseling. They include:

1. Mother will be 35 or older on the due date.

The risk of certain disorders, like Down's syndrome, increases as the mother ages. For this reason, mothers, like Carrie, who are 35 or older, should consider genetic counseling to find out more.

2. Mother has had a stillbirth or several miscarriages.

Because these can signify a genetic disorder, it's a good idea to have genetic counseling if the mother has had a stillbirth or has had three or more miscarriages. Because Carrie has had several miscarriages, this is another risk factor for her.

3. Either parent or a close blood relative has a genetic disorder.

Because some types of genetic disorders are inherited, genetic counseling is recommended for parents who have a disorder or who have a close family member with a genetic disorder.

4. Either parent has been exposed to substances that could cause genetic disorders.

This could include high levels of radiation and some drugs, like chemotherapy drugs, that can cause problems.

5. Test results have shown possible problems.

Whether it's a routine test, like an ultrasound, or a more invasive procedure like amniocentesis, if any medical tests have shown that there might be a problem with the fetus, it's a good idea to go to genetic counseling.

Since Carrie and John have two risk factors (her age and the number of previous miscarriages), it's a good idea for them to see a genetic counselor.

What to Expect

So, Carrie and John have decided to see a genetic counselor. But what now? What should they expect at their first appointment?

As with any medical appointment, each counseling session will be different because it is based on the specific situation of the couple seeing the genetic counselor. But there are some things that are common in genetic counseling sessions, and Carrie and John can expect at least some of the following to happen:

1. Family history will be taken.

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