Talking to Your Partner About Your Genes
Given the recent rise in genetic tests, these days it isn’t uncommon for adults to have personal insight about their specific genetic traits. One of the most common times to get genetic testing is when you’re planning a family. People can now take tests to learn if they are carriers of a specific genetic disorder. This is called genetic carrier testing.
A genetic carrier is an individual who is not affected by the condition but carries a mutation of a certain gene that, if passed down, could result in their child developing the disorder. With these technologies at our fingertips, how do adults looking to commit to a relationship talk with their partner about their genetic makeup? How should you discuss information gained from genetic carrier testing?
Why Is it Important to Share Genetic Screening Results with a Potential Spouse?
The types of conditions that can be inherited from genetic carriers are called autosomal recessive disorders. “Autosomal” refers to chromosomes that are not the sex chromosomes. “Recessive” means that two mutated copies of the gene need to be inherited in order for the disorder to develop. This explains how a genetic carrier can have one mutated copy of a gene without developing signs or symptoms of the condition but can pass the mutation on to their child.
If you’re planning to have children, it’s important to be open and honest with a potential spouse about your genetic carrier status. This is because, if both partners in a couple test positive as carriers of the same autosomal recessive genetic condition, there is a 25 percent chance that their child will develop the disorder. This percentage applies to each pregnancy.
If you have received a positive result for a genetic carrier test, your partner should also be tested. If he/she receives a negative result, then there is no chance that your child will develop the condition. However, if just one of you is a carrier, your child can become a carrier as well.
Understanding Fertility Options if Both Individuals Are Carriers for the Same Condition
For couples in which both individuals test positive as carriers for the same genetic disorder, there are multiple fertility options available. These include:
Natural pregnancy: Couples can choose to have a natural pregnancy knowing that there is a 25% risk their child may develop the condition. There are numerous prenatal DNA screening and diagnostic tests available to couples to help them learn more about their pregnancy.
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD): PGD is a technique used in conjunction with assisted reproductive technology procedures to analyze chromosomes of an embryo that is at least 5 days old before it is implanted in the womb. PGD allows laboratory technicians to choose healthy embryos for implantation using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to prevent the development of genetic disorders in children.
In vitro fertilization (IVF): IVF is an assisted reproductive technology that fertilizes the woman’s eggs with the man’s sperm outside of her body, in a laboratory. Once fertilized, the embryo is genetically tested using PGD five days following fertilization and, finally, a healthy embryo is chosen to be transferred to the woman’s uterus.
Consider Working with a Genetic Counselor
If you’re interested in learning if you may be a genetic carrier for a specific inherited condition, make an appointment to speak with a genetic counselor. These healthcare professionals help individuals and couples understand their risk of having a child with an inherited genetic condition, provide information on available testing and fertility options, and help counsel individuals and couples throughout the process. If you’d like to find a genetic counselor in your area, the National Society of Genetic Counselors provides an index of licensed professionals on their website.