Can knowing your genetic risk now improve your health?


A colleague of ours published an article on LinkedIn this morning sharing his experience with whole genome sequencing. One of the findings was his heightened risk for arthritis. Reportedly, 12.1% of the Americans older than 25 have arthritis. Naturally, we were curious if knowing our risk now could improve our risk and health later in life.

We shared the article with Peter Gerbino MD for his thoughts on whole genome sequencing. If you are concerned about your risk for arthritis, you might also want to read the posts we wrote with Dr. Gerbino early this year on genetic testing and preserving cartilage

Discussion with Dr. Gerbino about having your whole genome sequenced.

Q/ Is it worth evaluating risk for arthritis now? Could knowing your risk now have an impact on your health 10 – 20 – 30 years from now?

Genomic sequencing has tremendous potential for highlighting possible future medical problems. There are 2 critical problems that were not discussed in the article.

First, potential is not destiny. Just because you have a gene that occurs more frequently in those who develop, say, arthritis, doesn’t mean you will have arthritis. It means your chances of getting arthritis are higher than someone without that gene. How does one gauge that information? Do you worry about it for the rest of your life? No one knows how to best utilize that knowledge.

The second, and more worrisome issue is discrimination. Once your risk factors are known, what is to stop an insurance company from raising your rates or dropping you all together? If they ask (and they will), “Have you been genome sequenced?” and you say no, are you committing fraud and voiding your right to insurance? If you say yes and they demand your results and raise your rates, is that fair? Society has yet to address those questions.

Q/ At what age should people get tested for risk? Are there any guidelines now or will the medial community develop new guidelines?

Genes are the same throughout life. Any age will give the same results. There are no science-based guidelines from any group involved in the process.

Q/ How does arthritis effect the joints [mild – to severe]?

Arthritis means joint inflammation. That can occur from infection, gout, autoimmune reaction or from simple wear and tear. All types cause the joint cartilage to wear out faster. The more wear, the more symptoms: pain, stiffness, swelling, decreased motion.

Q/ Do people with arthritis eventually need joint replacement or can you live a healthy lifestyle with arthritis?

Everybody has some arthritis as we age and most of us do just fine.  Only some wear out their joint(s) to the point where they need joint replacement. Family history, prior injury and prior infection are the biggest risk factors for advanced arthritis.

Q/ If you have a heightened risk for arthritis, what can people do now to minimize risk?

If you have increased risk factors for arthritis, stay thin, exercise regularly and avoid high-impact activities. Otherwise, stop worrying and have fun!


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