Recently, my husband and I took our children to see our ENT. Both kids have very large tonsils, snore like truck drivers nightly, and sometimes, I can't tell if they're breathing or not - until I poke them. Needless to say, this has made me a bit anxious, so our ENT recommended a sleep study for the kids.
Last week, a stack of paperwork arrived in the mail from the sleep study specialist and they asked me to fill it out before coming to the office. Well, imagine my surprise when I realized that the packets were 20 pages long! Holy moly! Thank God I opened them days in advance because I never would have been able to fill them out the morning of the appointment!
Anyways, as I got to the section about family history, I started to feel overwhelmed. We have a decent amount of "red flag" health issues in our family lines and although I had expected to be asked about our family's sleep-related issues - apnea, snoring, night terrors, sleep walking, etc - I wasn't expecting to be asked about the "red flag" issues. As I saw how many boxes I had ticked - high blood pressure, congenital heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc - I got very antsy.
As a parent, your greatest fear in life is that something will happen to your child and you spend the majority of your life trying to keep that something from happening to them. Sadly, when it comes to health-related issues, there's not much you can do. I mean how do you know if our Pop Pop's macular degeneration was passed on to any of us or even on to our own kids? Or what about our Grandmother's migraines? Are our kids susceptible to them too?
So when 23andMe.com, a private genomics company, asked me if I would be interested in raising awareness about personal genetic testing kits for health risks and conditions, I thought, "Well, this could be interesting." If just a few millimeters of spit was able to give my family and I a heads-up on some potential health risks in our DNA, wouldn't I want to know about it?
I mean if I use myself as an example, I'm a specialist's favorite patient - and on paper, I look like a train wreck. Seriously, if you looked in my personal health history chart you would see: tonsillectomy, Epstein-Barr virus, ovarian torsion, partial unilateral oophorectomy, appendectomy, infertility, Intrauterine insemination (IUI), HELLP syndrome, pre-term birth, Hydronephrosis, Ureteropelvic Junction (UPJ) Obstruction, kidney stones, Paradoxical vocal fold movement (PVFM), migraines, and more. However, if you looked at me and asked if I was healthy, I would say, and you would agree, that I look as healthy as a clam. (Wait, do clams look healthy? Umm, I have no idea. Wait a minute. Isn't the saying "Happy as a clam?" Ugh, whatever, just forget that reference. You know what I mean!)
As a parent, I am highly aware of my own health-related concerns, and because of this, I keep a close eye on my children to make sure that they are as healthy as clams too (hee, hee), but what if some of the stuff in my chart could be passed on to them? I was curious so I went to 23andme.com and checked out their Health Reports page to see what diseases and conditions they included genetic analysis on. Without outing my family members, and airing all of our ailments on our blog, let's just say that I found at least 13 diseases and conditions that would be incredibly helpful to know if anyone else in our family had markers for.
Now, there is a downside to all of this wonderful technology. Just because your DNA may have a genetic mutation for one of the 240 diseases and conditions that they test for, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get that disease. On the flip side, it also doesn't mean that if your DNA is squeaky clean, you won't get the disease either. Translation: The test isn't fail safe. You still have to go see your doctor and get regular check-ups, and you shouldn't bug out if you test positive for something - because it's just meant to be a window into the possibilities of your health risks - not an exact blueprint.
However, personal genetic testing kits can help you take a more active role in the management of your family's health. By knowing what the health risks may be, you can work together with you and your childrens' primary care physicians to stay on top of any diseases and conditions that may be noted in your family's test results. But if you do decide to use a kit, please keep in mind that even though knowledge is power, it still must be used with caution - and some good 'ole common sense to boot. Your kids, your family, and your doctors will thank you.
Happy DNA testing,
P.S. There are several companies on the market now that offer personal genetic testing kits. I found an incredibly helpful article, Direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits, from Harvard Womens' Health Watch that is a must read before buying a kit.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.