The influence of genetic counselling in the era of DNA testing on knowledge, reproductive intentions and psychological wellbeing


Department of Public Health Medicine, St. Thomas Hospital, Lambeth Palace Road, Lonaon SE1 7EH, UK


Subjects of reproductive age at risk of having an affected child with a severe single gene disorder such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) or cystic fibrosis (CF) were surveyed to ascertain: their views on genetic counselling and antenatal testing; their knowledge of their risk of having an affected child; and their psychological wellbeing. Questionnaires were posted to 209 individuals at 130 addresses; a 65% response rate was achieved. The majority of those surveyed were under 40 years of age (91%), half of them had received genetic counselling only once and for 47% the first encounter was after the diagnosis of their affected child. Most patients expressed their intention to use prenatal testing. However, less than 50% of those counselled knew their risk of having an affected child. Knowledge of risk was associated with the type of disease in the family (p<0.001) (inheritance of DMD was poorly understood by relevant subjects) and was positively associated with the participant's level of education (p<0.05). We did not detect a significant association between the number of intended children and the risk of having an affected child. In terms of family relations, genetic counselling appears to be beneficial for the nuclear family, the couple and their children, but some counsellees reported a detericration in relations with other relatives. The results indicate that couples at risk of having a child with a severe genetic disorder value the counselling provided, but many of them do not remember important facts in relation to their risk status.