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What Health Issues Can Be Passed Through Genetics?
Monday, 22 March 2021

When two people come together and have a baby, certain genetics pass down from the parents. Ultimately, this determines things like blood type, gender, eye colour, height, and other characteristics. In many ways, humans are a combination of their parents (whether this is a good or a bad thing!). Sadly, genetics are also the cause of passing some health conditions down to children.

How common is this problem? According to the Department of Health from the Government of Western Australia, around 60% of people will suffer at least one condition that has a history in the family. Before you start to panic, there is a whole range of conditions to which this applies. While some are severe, others are mild and don’t cause the sufferer too many issues.

How Do Genes Work?

All your genes are held in chromosomes - these are essentially small packages of genes. Most humans have 46 and they’re split into 23 different pairs. This being said, some people experience changes to their chromosomes or differentiate from the norm. For example, those with Down’s Syndrome actually have three of the 21st chromosome rather than two. This extra chromosome alters the genetics of the baby. Other chromosomal disorders include:
  • XYY Syndrome
  • Trisomy 13
  • Trisomy 18
  • Turner syndrome
  • Klinefelter syndrome
However, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between genetic conditions and hereditary conditions. There are three types of Down’s Syndrome and all of them are considered genetic conditions because the formation of the syndrome occurs in the genes. Despite this, one in 100 cases are passed down from a parent.

Health Conditions Passed Through Genetics

With this understanding, you’re probably now wondering which medical conditions are passed through genetics. Unfortunately, one of the biggest hereditary genetic conditions is cancer. Often, children are born with the same faulty genes as their parents and this leaves them exposed to some cancers. Instead of passing cancer itself down to the next generation, it’s the faulty gene that causes issues for families.
If a child has the inherited faulty gene, this doesn’t mean that cancer is inevitable. Instead, it simply means that their risk is higher. According to some statistics, up to 10% of cancer cases are hereditary in this way. Examples of hereditary cancer types include colon, breast, ovarian, prostate, melanoma, uterine, and pancreatic.
Note: Consider looking up myDNA health testing to learn more about the faulty genes you may be passing on to your children.
In addition to cancer, another health condition passed through genetics is cystic fibrosis. For those suffering from cystic fibrosis, it means that they produce excess mucus which impacts the digestive system, the respiratory system, and more. If both parents have the gene, children have a 25% chance of being born with it too. Sadly, cystic fibrosis leads to other health problems and 19 in every 20 men with the health condition can’t have children.
Also, parents can pass the sickle cell trait down to their children. Common in those with Indian or Mediterranean heritage, sickle cell disease changes the shape of red blood cells. As they start to join together, they get stuck in blood vessels and this causes organ damage, pain, infection, and other health problems.
Fortunately, scientists have been able to learn more and more about this disease which means that mortality rates are continually falling. With more vaccines and treatments, people around the world are coping with sickle cell disease better than ever.
Other examples of hereditary genetic conditions include haemophilia, Tay-Sachs, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, thalassemia, and fragile X syndrome. Parents can also pass the following down to children:
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes
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