What is genetic counseling?

A genetic counselor is a health care professional with special training in medical genetics who is able to present complex information in a way that is clear and understandable. If genetic testing is available, a genetic counselor can help a family decide whether testing is right for them.

Genetic counselors see patients for a variety of reasons, including preconception (before pregnancy) counseling to review medication use, family history of birth defects, or medical disease that might affect pregnancy outcome, such as diabetes. Counseling is an essential part of prenatal diagnosis. Genetic counselors provide information and support to families regarding birth defects and genetic disorders. Patients should have counseling prior to any prenatal diagnosis procedure. During your session the counselor will obtain the family history; review in detail the process of prenatal diagnosis; and discuss the benefits, risks, and limitations of testing for your specific concern. Some couples may wish to have genetic counseling prior to getting pregnant if they have particular concerns about their family history.

For more information on genetic counseling visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

Who is a candidate for genetic counseling?

Prenatal diagnosis can help determine the health and identify genetic conditions in an unborn fetus.

There are many indications for undergoing prenatal testing:

  • The mother will be 35 years or older at the estimated time of delivery
  • Results from a maternal blood test that indicates an increased risk for some conditions
  • A family history of birth defects, including open neural tube defect, cleft lip/cleft palate, and heart defects
  • Family history or a previous child with a chromosomal condition
  • A known chromosomal rearrangement in one or both parents
  • Carriers of known genetic conditions, such as:
    • Cystic Fibrosis
    • Tay-Sachs Disease
    • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • The mother is a carrier of a gene for a sex-linked disease like hemophilia
  • Concerning ultrasound findings for serious birth defect
  • Other increased risk for a detectable fetal condition
  • Medication exposure during pregnancy
  • Maternal disease (such as diabetes)

Not all conditions can be determined prenatally. However, by using a range of techniques, prenatal diagnosis can help:

  • Develop management plan
  • Find out more about the outcome and management of the pregnancy
  • Plan for complications at the time of birth or afterwards
  • Establish how a diagnosis will affect future pregnancies

What prenatal tests are available?

Early in your pregnancy, your doctor or midwife will discuss prenatal tests that aim to detect the risk or presence of a birth defect or serious disease in your developing baby. These testing options are summarized in the Prenatal Testing section. For more complete information, talk to your doctor or midwife and see the Intermountain booklet, A Guide to Prenatal Testing.

How can I contact a genetic counselor at Intermountain Healthcare?

Division of Reproductive Genetics
Maternal Fetal Medicine
Phone: (801) 507-7400

Nancy C. Rose, MD

Licensed Genetic Counselors
L. Brent Hafen, MS, CGC
Rebecca Hulinsky, MS, CGC
Katherine R Dunn, MS, CGC


Intermountain Medical Center
5121 Cottonwood Street
Murray, UT 84157
(801) 507-7400

LDS Hospital
8th Ave and C Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84143
(801) 408-3446

Utah Valley Regional Medical Center
1034 North 500 West
Provo, UT 84604
(801) 357-7706

McKay Dee Hospital Center
4401 Harrison Blvd.
Ogden, UT 84403
(801) 387-4600

Logan Regional Hospital
1400 North 500 East
Logan, UT 83341
(801) 387-4600

Dixie Regional Medical Center
544 South 400 East
St. George, UT 84770
(801) 688-4770

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