Genetic test alerts Army veteran to possible side effects

Simple blood test can show how the body responds to certain medications

Genetic test alerts Army veteran to possible side effects

When David Van Lith was first contacted by Sanford Health about taking a free pharmacogenomics test, he thought it was a way to check his ancestry. But the Army veteran was thrilled to learn the test could actually benefit his health care treatment.

“I’ve had several ankle surgeries and I’ve noticed that pain meds … I don’t even know I’ve taken it hardly,” said Van Lith.

Because of pharmacogenomics, or PGx, he now knows why.

“It’s because of the way my body processes those opiate type of medicines,” he said.

Van Lith also found out that some acid reducers wouldn’t work particularly well for him, and that his body likely wouldn’t process a certain type of blood thinner well.

“Knowing about the blood thinners, that would be the most important for me,” said Van Lith. “That can actually potentially be deadly.”

What is pharmacogenomics?

Van Lith met virtually with Natasha Petry, PharmD, a PGx clinical pharmacist at Sanford Health Fargo, who explained his test results and how PGx actually works.

“Essentially, we take a look at genetics and how it plays a role in how people break down or use medication,” said Petry. “They might be fast or slow metabolizers, which affects the concentration in their blood. And so maybe we need a different dose for them compared to a ‘normal’ metabolizer. Maybe we need a different medication altogether.”

Petry says PGx can be broken down into two major health benefits for patients. First is drug efficacy, or how likely a drug is to work for a patient based on their genetics. Second is drug safety, or how likely a drug is to cause an adverse reaction for a patient.

There is also a third benefit to having a PGx test. Once those results are in, they go on a patient’s permanent medical record.

“Just like if a patient has an allergy, that pops up for the provider, right? ‘Don’t prescribe this medication.’ We have something similar for genetics where if they were to be prescribed a medication that wasn’t the appropriate dose based on their genetics, that alert would pop up for the providers and say, ‘use this at a lower dose’ or ‘don’t use this medication,’” Petry said.

Free PGx testing for veterans

That service is particularly relevant for Van Lith. As a veteran, he receives some of his care at the VA. So he can forward his PGx results to the VA, and those providers can give him safe medications as well.

“That’s one of the most important things for me,” he said. “If I’m outside the Sanford network and I have to see somebody and they want to prescribe a medicine to me, it might set an alarm off saying, ‘you might want to rethink that with David due to this profile.’”

Sanford provides free PGx testing for all veterans, regardless of medication or health history. If a veteran is a Sanford Health patient and hasn’t already done genetic testing through Sanford Imagenetics, they are eligible. Vets can ask their provider to order a test, which requires a blood draw at any Sanford lab. Results are then processed and added to the patient’s medical record. Upon request, patients can also schedule a virtual or in-person visit with a PGx pharmacist to discuss their results.

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Posted In Bismarck, Fargo, Genetics, Specialty Care, Veterans