Genetics and Medication

Genetic testing for medications has gained popularity in the past few years especially in the psychiatric community.  Also called Pharmacogenetics, this genome testing analyzes your DNA to determine how your body will react to certain medications.  I’ve had the testing done myself, so has my daughter as well as another member of my family.  We’ve had differing results.

Pharmacogenetics looks at the individual genes and determines how certain medications will be metabolized by the body.  This can affect how the medication works and what side effects are likely to occur.  It can also be helpful in proper dosing of medication. 

Some people’s bodies metabolize medicines and other substances faster than others.  For example, my testing showed that I metabolize caffeine faster than most people.  This is why I can have a cup of coffee before bedtime and it not affect my sleep.  Someone else may metabolize caffeine slower and not be able to have that cup of joe before bedtime and may even get the jitters if they drink too much.  It can work the same way for medication.  The test helps doctors determine how certain types of medicines will work with your body.

So how does this work?  Once you and your doctor have decided to do the testing, a cheek swab is done to collect DNA.  It’s that quick and easy.  Your DNA is then sent off to a lab where the technicians will look at the different variants or changes in specific genes.  This can tell them which medications may be right for you.

There are different tests for different kinds of medications.  Psychotropics (medication for depression, PTSD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.), pain medicines that include opioids, NSAIDs and muscle relaxers, ADHD medications and a few others.  Several tests may need to be performed but once they are, there is no need for more testing because DNA doesn’t change.  Another point to note – because this type of testing is so new there are many medications that can not yet be tested for such as aspirin or other over the counter medicines.

When the results come back there are three columns – red, yellow and green.  Green, obviously, means that those are the best matches for you.  Yellow works but may have side effects. Red is a total no-go.  Medications in the red usually don’t work at all and have the most side effects.

As I said earlier, my daughter, another family member and I have had different results.  My daughter and family member have had great results.  Paix is more balanced than she has ever been on medication and my family member went from several pills a day down to one.  I, on the other hand, have not had such good luck.  I’m still struggling to find the right medication.

This is one of the hiccups of the genetic testing.  There are other factors that can play into how your body processes medication.  These include weight, age, other medications, lifestyle and your overall health.  I can only guess that my other health issues – like my hypothyroidism – have an impact on my results.

The cost of testing can vary, but many insurance companies now cover it.  There may be a co-pay though.  Some insurance companies require documentation of a disorder or diagnosis before allowing the testing to be done.  Be sure to consult with your doctor about what options are available to you.

Pharmacogenetics is still very new as a tool for physicians.  It will be interesting to see how this instrument in healthcare grows and what impact it will have in the future.  As I said before, right now it does not hold all the answers for the perfect pill, but who knows – in the future it may.

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