Pharmacogenetics: Genetic Testing for Personalized Medical Treatment
How Do You Metabolize Medications?
Most people are unaware that roughly 2 million hospitalizations resulting from adverse reactions to medications occur each year. Just imagine how much of this could be avoided by treatments that are custom tailored to each person’s genetic make-up. The genes we carry in our bodies do more than determine body shape, blood type, hair color, eye color, and other characteristics – they also regulate how the body will process medications. For example, take a look at the following categories of how people metabolize medications:
Ultrarapid Metabolizer (UM) – people in this category process medication at a very quick pace, often metabolizing it before its therapeutic effects can have an impact on the body. Drug treatments are often seen as ineffective with little to no relief as an outcome.
Extensive Metabolizer (EM) – the people in this group often see the best results because they absorb the medication effectively with little to no side effects. They experience relief from their symptoms – often at the fastest possible rate.
Intermediate Metabolizer (IM) – this individual metabolizes medication at a slower than normal rate. There is a higher chance of mild toxicity and side effects for these people. Outcomes from treatment here is hit or miss, with the potential for some symptom relief, although not as much as desired in most cases.
Poor Metabolizer (PM) – this is the category that you do not want to be in as the body process medication at a very slow rate. This means the bloodstream contains higher quantities of the medicine for longer periods, increasing the risk of side effects and even life-threatening conditions.
Why Is Pharmacogenetics Use Not Widespread?
You would think that something that could predict how a person will handle a medication would be widespread in use, but that is not the case. Because this is a newer method of testing, many doctors do not yet know it exists. Since most insurers do not yet cover genetic testing for the purpose of determining medications, doctors rarely prescribe the process. Instead, patients are often guinea pigs waiting and watching through trial and error after one medication after another fails to yield positive results.
Doctors and insurance companies tend to wait until all of the verdicts are in before approving and embracing new technology. At this time, the experts still disagree on the benefits of pharmacogenetics. While it has worked wonders for some people – zeroing in on treatments that will be both safe and effective, it has had the opposite effect for other individuals. For some people, medications have been recommended that have already been tried with bad reactions. The science is not yet perfect enough in all areas. There are also no genetic markers at this time for autism and ADHD, making it impossible to get complete readings for potential treatments for everyone with these conditions.
Does that mean you should forgo looking for options for genetic testing for drug therapy? The only person who can make that decision is you – with the help of a knowledgeable doctor in the field of pharmacogenetic testing. Clearly, if your child is currently receiving treatment that works – without any side effects – you may not want to pursue this avenue since there is a strong chance you will have to pay out of pocket for the test if it is not covered by your insurance company. However, if you are not happy with the current treatment your child is receiving, genetic testing may be the best option at this time.
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