At-home genetic tests: what you should know
A genetic test looks for changes in genes that can cause birth defects and other medical conditions. Genes are part of the cells in your body. They store instructions for the way your body grows, looks and works. Genetic tests can help you find out if you have changes in genes that may cause health problems for you and your baby.
You may get genetic tests from your health care provider. But it’s now possible to buy at-home genetic tests that you can take by yourself. Some at-home tests are for couples who are thinking about having a baby, and some are for women who are already pregnant. Test results may be able to tell you if you or your partner carry changes in genes that may lead to certain diseases. Other at-home tests don’t have anything to do with pregnancy. For example, they may tell you how your body reacts to certain medicines or to nutrients from food.
Do you need to use at-home genetic tests?
No. You don’t need at-home genetic testing to help you have a healthy pregnancy. They may not give you much useful information. And they may cause you stress, especially if you haven’t talked to your provider about testing or if you don’t understand the test results.
The March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists don’t recommend using at-home genetic tests. And the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics recommends that if you’re interested in any kind of genetic testing, talk about it with a health care provider who is an expert in genetic tests.
Some states don’t allow at-home genetic testing. To find out about your state, call your state health department. Health insurance companies don’t pay for at-home genetic tests unless a health care provider asks for the test. And even then, an insurance company may not pay.
When it comes to your health and your baby's health, your health care provider is the best person to help you decide which genetic tests, if any, are right for you and your baby.
If you use at-home genetic testing, what should you do with the results?
The March of Dimes recommends that you share and discuss any test result with your health care provider.
Test results may be hard to understand without your provider’s help. Your results may be misleading. For example, if your test result says you’re at low risk for getting a disease later in life, you still may get the disease. Or if your results say you’re at high risk for a disease, you may worry about it even though you may never get the disease.
Your provider is the best person to help you understand genetic test results. If you do use an at-home test, share the results with your provider.
Are at-home genetic test results kept private?
Some women may like the idea of at-home genetic tests because they don’t want their employer or insurance company to find out their test results. But employers can’t use genetic test results to make decisions about your employment, and insurance companies can’t use them to make decisions about your coverage. A 2008 law called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act makes these things illegal.
Even with the law, you still may be worried about your privacy. For example, some test makers may do research on DNA samples they receive. Or they may sell samples to other companies for research. Even if your name is removed from the sample, you may not want your DNA to be used in these ways.
If you’re thinking about taking an at-home genetic test, ask the test company these questions before you buy the test kit:
- How will my test information be used?
- Will the test company share my test results?
- What happens to my DNA sample after it’s been tested?
What genetic tests do providers recommend?
Your health care provider may recommend that you have certain genetic tests in a medical office or clinic before or during pregnancy. She also may recommend that you see a genetic counselor to find out more about these tests. If you need help finding a genetic counselor, contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
Talk to your provider or genetic counselor before you have a genetic test about what you can expect from test results. Tests they may recommend include:
Last reviewed April 2014
See also: Your family health history
Most common questions
How do you know you're pregnant?
Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant:
If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby.
How soon can I take a pregnancy test?
Home pregnancy tests are usually more accurate when your period is late - about 2 weeks after conception (getting pregnant). If they're done too early, they may say that you're not pregnant when you really are. This is called a false negative. That's why it’s best to take a home pregnancy test when your period is late. Carefully follow the test's instructions. Tests done at a lab or at your health care provider's office are more accurate.
I’m late for my period but my pregnancy test is negative. Why?
If you've taken a home pregnancy test and it's negative (shows that you're not pregnant), you may want to take a blood pregnancy test at your health care provider's office. A blood pregnancy test is more sensitive than a home pregnancy test that checks your urine. The blood pregnancy test can tell a pregnancy very early on.
Pregnancy tests work by looking for the hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that a woman's body makes during pregnancy. If both a blood and urine test come back negative and you still have a missed period, talk with your health care provider. Things like stress, eating habits, illness or infection can cause changes in your menstrual cycle.
I’ve been trying to get pregnant for 3 months. What’s wrong?
Pregnancy may not occur right away, so there is no need to worry. For most couples, it may take up to 1 year to conceive. If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, or 6 months if you're over 35, it may be time to talk with your health care provider. You and your partner can get tests to find out why you are not getting pregnant
Is it possible to ovulate without having a period?
Ovulation is when a woman's ovary releases an egg. This egg travels down into the fallopian tube. If you had sex without using birth control, sperm will swim up to meet your egg so that your egg can be fertilized. If no fertilization occurs, and after about two weeks, your body sheds the unfertilized egg, the uterine lining and blood and tissue that would have nurtured a fertilized egg. This is known as menstruation (your period).
You ovulate before you menstruate. But if you don't get your period, it doesn't necessarily mean that you haven't ovulated. For example, some women have irregular cycles. Even if you're very regular, once in a while your cycle may change. Therefore, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when you ovulate. If you don't get your period, you may want to take a pregnancy test.
What is the best time to get pregnant?
The best time to get pregnant is a few days before ovulation or the day of ovulation. This is because a man's sperm can live up to 72 hours after intercourse and a woman's egg is fertile for 12 to 24 hours after its release. If your periods are regular, use an ovulation calculator. If your periods are irregular, use one of the following. Talk to your health care provider to learn more about the most effective way to use these.
- Purchase a basal body thermometer. Use it to take your temperature before you get out of bed every day. Your temperature goes up by 1 degree when you ovulate.
- Check the mucus in your vagina. It may become thinner, more slippery, clearer and more plentiful just before ovulation.
- Purchase an ovulation prediction kit. Use it to test your urine for a substance called luteinizing hormone (LH). LH increases each month during ovulation.
Have intercourse as close as possible to ovulation to improve your chance of getting pregnant.