Genetic counselling

Genetic counselling can help you and your family understand and cope with genetic conditions. It can also help you find out what options, tests, and resources are available.

The term "genetic condition" means any medical disorder caused by differences in your hereditary material, like a change in your chromosomes or genes.

What is a genetic counsellor?

A genetic counsellor is a health care professional. He or she typically has a Master's degree in genetic counselling, with specialized training in medical genetics and counselling.

Most genetic counsellors are certified by the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors and/or the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

What genetic counsellors do

Genetic counsellors can help you to manage stress linked to genetic testing. They offer a safe, supportive, confidential environment where you can share your personal and family medical history and explore the emotional aspects of both genetic testing and the results of tests.

If you have decided to have genetic testing, a genetic counsellor can help you to:

  • understand how information from the testing may be used
  • explore the decisions that may need to be made if testing shows that an embryo or resulting child has inherited a genetic condition
  • prepare to deal with a result that was not expected, or not desired

A genetic counsellor can sometimes also help with infertility issues, and feelings surrounding infertility. Genetic counsellors often work closely with fertility counsellors and/or mental health professionals to help you deal with the range of emotions related to infertility and fertility treatments.

You may want to see a genetic counsellor if you are:

  • a woman 35 years of age or older
  • a woman with primary ovarian failure
  • a man with sperm count issues
  • related to your partner (for example, cousins)
  • an individual or a couple with a history of three or more miscarriages or infertility issues
  • diagnosed with or at risk for a genetic condition (like cystic fibrosis)
  • concerned about a previous pregnancy with a chromosome issue or abnormality
  • from an ethnic background eligible for population screening

What to expect

During your first visit with a genetic counsellor, you will usually be asked about your personal and family medical history. This information is kept confidential and is used to determine your level of risk for genetic conditions, as well as your eligibility for specific tests.

The counsellor will explain to you the various genetic testing and screening options so you can make an informed choice. They may also provide information about heredity and specific genetic conditions, including what the disorder is, the likely cause of the condition, how it is inherited, and how it can be detected and managed.

While genetic tests and screens may reveal the cause of underlying fertility issues, it is important to realize that underlying genetic conditions are responsible for only a small percentage of infertility cases. Also, genetic tests and screens have their limitations, and may not always explain the infertility.

Genetic counsellors can help you cope with difficult situations, like:

  • deciding about genetic testing or screening
  • making decisions before your baby is born
  • living with a genetic condition
  • caring for someone who has a genetic condition
  • being at risk for a genetic condition

They can also help you make connections to support services in your community.

How to find a genetic counsellor

If you need genetic counselling, you can get a referral from a health care professional (like your family doctor). In Canada, genetic counselling is part of our health care system and there is no extra cost to use the service, unless it is in a private clinic.

To find a medical genetics clinic in your area, visit the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors (CAGC) website.

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