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At-Home Genetic Tests

Test Overview

At-home genetic tests check the DNA of your cells. These tests can find changes in your genes that increase your risk for certain health problems.

Some of these tests provide information about your health, paternity, or family health history.

Why It Is Done

A genetic test may be done to:

  • Learn more about family relationships, including paternity and ancestry.
  • Find out your risk for an inherited disease.
  • Learn more about your health.

An at-home genetic test that offers information about your health risks may help you to decide to make lifestyle changes that help you stay healthy.

A test about ancestry can also help you learn more about your family history and ethnicity.

How It Is Done

An at-home genetic test is a test you do you yourself. You can buy the test at a store or online. The test kit will include instructions on how to do it. But in general:

  • You'll collect a sample. This is usually a saliva sample, a swab from inside your cheek, or a blood sample. You might have to go to a local lab to collect a blood sample.
  • You'll send your sample to the vendor. Their lab does the genetic testing.
  • You'll get the test results back, either online, by mail, or by phone.

Some at-home genetic testing companies may have a genetic counselor or health care provider available who can answer questions or explain results.

Risks

There are some things to consider when you use an at-home genetic test.

  • The test may not be as accurate as one you can get through your doctor. And the results can cause unnecessary worry.
  • Test results may be hard to understand. And you may not know what to do next without the help of your doctor or a genetic counselor.
  • Companies that offer genetic testing about your health and lifestyle often also sell diet and fitness products. Typically, results from these types of companies are not proven to be medically valid by clinical genetics providers.

The benefits and risks of at-home genetic tests will need more research.

Legal and privacy concerns

A genetic test result is your personal information.

  • Find out from the company how and if your results will stay safe and private.
  • Your results should only be released to those who are authorized to receive them.

Finding a genetic disease may have legal implications.

  • If the disease isn't causing symptoms now (such as breast cancer or Huntington's disease), it shouldn't affect your future ability to get hired for a job or get health insurance.
  • There's a law in the United States called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). This law protects people who have DNA differences that may affect their health. The law doesn't cover life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance. And it doesn't cover employees of very small companies.

Results

The results from an at-home genetic test are usually just one piece of information. Other things that can affect your health include lifestyle, family medical history, and environment. So if you are thinking about using one of these tests, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor.

Your doctor may suggest that you see a genetic counselor. This type of counseling can help you think through your decisions. It is guidance given by a health professional (genetic counselor or medical geneticist) who is trained to help people understand their options for genetic testing and their risks of getting a disease or of having a child with the disease.

Talk with your doctor or genetic counselor about your results before you make health-related decisions such as:

  • Having children.
  • Preventing or treating a disease or health problem.
  • Changing your lifestyle or what medicines you take.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: March 3, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Siobhan M. Dolan MD, MPH - Reproductive Genetics

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