Genetic counseling is a procedure whereby medical experts perform genetic tests and get a record of family history of disease. This is done to analyze the possibility of the mother passing any genetic disorder to the new baby. It is one of the very important step in pregnancy care. Genetic disorders are caused by a flaw in any of the parent's genes. Few of the genetic disorders that can be identified on the basis of tests are Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, Tay-Sachs disease and spina bifida.
The main aim of genetic counseling is to educate the parents about the genetic disorder, provide counseling and psychological support, and also give important information on support groups and services. Your health care provider may suggest genetic counseling when either of the parents has somebody in the family with an inherited disease or birth defect. Genetic counseling is also recommended parents are over the age of 35, when a couple already has children with birth defects or genetic disorders, history of miscarriage or when a prenatal testing gives an abnormal result. Ideally the best time to get a genetic counseling is before getting pregnant especially if there is possibility of either of the first two risks. It is also sought by couples who consider it to be a part of pregnancy planning. This helps in deciding whether to start a family and warns you against any problems that may affect the new born infant. If the counselor feels the necessity of tests like carrier tests and screening tests, it may be performed. Carrier test checks for conditions such as Thalassemia which is a blood disorder primarily affecting those of the Mediterranean, African and Southern Asian descent.
Screening tests eliminates the need to perform intrusive diagnostic tests during pregnancy. Couples are also referred for genetic counseling during the pre pregnancy stage to alert them about the health problems due to exposure to teratogens such as harmful chemicals, heavy metals, radiations, drug, and alcohol/substance abuse. Some of the genetic screening tests performed during pregnancy are the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test which detects birth defects such as neural tube defect, spina bifida and anencephaly. Ultrasound tests are performed to check the possibility of spina bifida, heart defects, and malformations of the head, face, body, and limbs. Amniocentesis is used to detect genetic and developmental disorders. Sampling of Chorionic villus helps in detecting Down's syndrome.
The cost of such genetic counseling dissuades many couples from going for it. But there are many agencies that offer financial aid. Many health insurance policies cover the costs. Genetic counseling services are becoming popular in India and are available at around 40 centers spread all over the country. This service is usually obtainable from some reputed hospitals in cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune. One should think about genetic counseling sessions in a positive way and as significant part of pregnancy care. This is part of the process of giving to your child the right environment to grow.