What are at-home genetic tests?
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.
You don't need a prescription from your doctor and you don't need to involve your health insurance plan to use an at-home genetic test.
Some at-home genetic tests provide information about your health, paternity, or family health history.
Genes determine what features a person inherits from his or her parents, such as blood type, hair color, eye color, and other characteristics. Chromosomes are parts of body cells that carry DNA. The DNA of each chromosome is divided up into genes.
Changes can occur in genes or chromosomes. These changes may be harmless and undetectable. Or they may lead to conditions such as sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, or Down syndrome.
How are these tests done?
- An at-home genetic test kit includes instructions for collecting a sample. You can buy at-home genetic tests at a store or online. The test can be done using your saliva, a swab from inside your cheek, or a blood sample. You may 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 receive your test results from the vendor. You might get them 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.
Why are they done?
Genetic tests 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.
At-home genetic tests that offer information about your health risks may help you to decide to make lifestyle changes that help you stay healthy.
At-home genetic tests about ancestry can also help you learn more about your family history and ethnicity.
What are the risks?
- At-home genetic tests may not be as accurate as ones 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.
What are the 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. But 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.
What else should you know about at-home genetic tests?
Genetic testing at home has only been available a short time. More research is needed to understand the benefits and risks.
The results from at-home genetic tests 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 the 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.
Current as of: December 8, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Siobhan M. Dolan MD, MPH - Reproductive Genetics