Adopting a Healthy Attitude

By Julie Dreese

Knowing your family’s health history is an important component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you know that Uncle George had a heart attack at 40 and your father did at 45, your doctor can help you assess your risk for heart disease. But what happens when you don’t know your biological family’s history?

For adopted children, it’s not easy — and sometimes it’s downright impossible — to construct a detailed family health history. Biological parents can disappear during the adoption process, family members may not be reputable sources and adoption agencies can only collect so much information. For decades, adoptees’ only course of action in adulthood was vigilance.

Today, science is providing clearer answers to patients with questions. When you don’t have a family health history to go off of, many people turn to genetic screenings and genetic testing to give them a more complete picture of their health.

Carrier screenings

A carrier screening determines whether you have an asymptomatic gene mutation for an inherited disorder. In English that means the test results tell you whether or not you are carrying a gene mutation that could be turned on in your children. For a recessive disease to be produced, there have to be two changes in the gene. Carriers only have one change.

Some of the disorders a carrier screening can test for include:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Tay-Sachs disease


Predictive screenings

A predictive genetic test looks at genes to determine if you are carrying a change or mutation that is linked to a specific disease. These screenings help patients and doctors understand if there is an increased risk for inherited disorder. One of the most well-known predictive screenings is for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations that pose a significantly increased risk for breast cancer.

No doubt you’ll recall that earlier this year actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie went public with her announcement that she tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation and subsequently had a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer from 87-percent down to 5-percent.

Diagnostic testing

When an individual shows symptoms of a particular genetic condition, a diagnostic genetic test will diagnose the condition and determine whether genetics played a role. With the genetic testing component, your doctors may be able to tailor your treatment plan to best suit your individual needs and it can spark a conversation with other family members who may be at risk for the same condition.

If you or a loved one was adopted, genetic testing may be a way to finally start putting together the puzzle pieces of your family health history. Talk to your doctor or a genetic counselor to find out if testing will help you.

Julie Dreese is a writer and obsessive health nut in central Pennsylvania. Read more of her work at