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Genetic Counseling

Dr. Tilstra visits with a genetics patient

Our genetic specialists provide information and support to individuals and families with genetic conditions or birth defects, or to individuals or couples who have an increased chance of having a child with a genetic condition or birth defect.

Genetic counselors are health professionals who have a master’s degree and specialized training in medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors usually work as members of health care teams which can include medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, nutritionists, social workers and nurses.

You may want to see a genetic counselor if…


  • You, your child or a family member has been diagnosed with a genetic condition.
  • You are concerned that you, your child, or a family member has a genetic or inherited condition (Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, etc).
  • Your family has a history of developmental delays, hearing loss, birth defects, and/or intellectual disability/learning problems.
  • Your family has a history of cancer.
  • You are a couple who are related to each other, such as first cousins.
  • You are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and are concerned about the health of your baby (because of medications taken; personal history of diabetes, etc).
  • You are pregnant and will be 35 years or older at delivery.
  • You have a history of infertility or pregnancy losses (miscarriages or stillbirths).
  • You have received abnormal prenatal screening or ultrasound results.
  • Your baby had an abnormal result from newborn screening.
  • You are of specific ethnic backgrounds with increased incidence of genetic conditions (Tay-Sachs in Jewish population or sickle cell anemia in African population).

What happens during a genetics counseling appointment?

At the beginning of the session, you and the genetic counselor will discuss your concerns and outline what will be discussed. Common topics include:

  • Talking about your personal and family health history and ethnic heritage.
  • Helping you understand the causes of genetic conditions.
  • Helping you understand testing options, diagnosis, or in some cases, the reason why no diagnosis has been made.
  • Guiding you through decision-making about genetic testing, family planning or medical planning.
  • Helping you deal with emotions associated with having or not having a known genetic condition, having a relative with a genetic condition or being at risk for a genetic condition.
  • Finding supportive resources to help you manage a genetic condition.
  • Understanding the chances of passing a genetic condition on to your children. 

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