Understanding Genetics 

Genetics is the branch of medicine that looks at how hereditary and genetic factors play a role in causing a disease, birth defects, or inherited susceptibility to a health problem such as cancer or heart disease. Almost all disease is a result of the interaction between our genes and the environment.    

Understanding the genetic causes of disease can help to develop better prevention and treatment strategies. Did you know: 

  • 3% of all babies are born with a birth defect. 
  • 1 in 9 children admitted to the hospital has a genetic disorder. 
  • 1 in 12 adults admitted to the hospital has a genetic disorder. 
  • 1 in 22 people in the United States has a genetic disorder. 
  • 20-30% of all infant deaths are due to genetic disorders. 

Learning Your Family Medical History 

It is important for all Texans to know their family medical history. Many health conditions run in families because families live in the same environment, share the same habits, lifestyles and genes. 

The U.S. Surgeon General encourages all families to learn more about their health history. A computer tool, called “My Family Health Portrait” has been developed to help families record their family tree and medical history. 

How We Help

A teratogen is defined as any medication, chemical, infectious disease or environmental exposure that could affect the development of a fetus. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) operates a Teratogen Information Service to assist Texans in determining if a drug or environmental exposure could affect their pregnancy. 

Service Options

Texans seek genetic services before and while pregnant to determine if the baby is at increased risk for birth defects and genetic conditions or if a medication or drug could affect the development of their baby. Birth defects are related to both genetic and environmental factors. A genetics professional can help if a birth defect is detected during a pregnancy. 

Genetic services can include physical exams, health histories, diagnostic and laboratory tests, and genetic counseling.  

  • Genetic Specialists: Genetic specialists provide individuals and families with information about inherited diseases, how they are passed down in the family, and how they can affect a person's health. 
  • Genetic Counselors: Genetic counselors and medical geneticists are specialists who can provide in-depth counseling about heritable disorders and determine if a person could be at risk. Family history holds key information that can unlock clues about you or your children’s future health.|
  • Genetic Services for Newborns: Genetic services are important for newborns. All babies in Texas are tested at birth for certain rare disorders, hearing screening, and critical congenital heart disease. Newborn screening is a powerful tool for the early identification and treatment of certain disorders. In the United States, it is estimated that 3 to 5 percent of all babies are born with a genetic condition, birth defect or intellectual disability. Five to ten percent of all children have learning or intellectual disabilities. Genetic factors play a role in many forms of intellectual disabilities. If the exact cause of the intellectual disability can be determined, it could change the medical management of the child.