You’ve been “you” your whole life, but there is still so much about yourself you haven’t discovered, especially when it comes to your health.
Kate Higgins, PsyD, is a doctor of neuropsychology. Like many in her profession, Dr. Higgins has a curious mind. So when an opportunity arose for her to dive into her health at the genetic level, she jumped at the chance.
“I work a lot with kids who have genetic conditions,” Dr. Higgins explained. “I think the role genetics play in our lives is fascinating, and so I was very interested in learning more about mine.”
With a simple blood draw, the Sanford Chip gives patients and their providers a line of sight into new aspects of health. It looks at your DNA to deliver information in two distinct areas: disease predisposition and medication response. This means you could have a better understanding of what diseases you are at risk for and how certain medications will react in your unique body.
And in health — where knowledge is power — these nuggets can have a huge impact in your life now and in the future.
The heart of the matter
Dr. Higgins knew she had high cholesterol. Her mother had it, so she figured it had been passed down her family tree. However, it wasn’t something she had been overly concerned about.
“When I received my results, it was a little eye-opening,” Dr. Higgins said. “I have what is known as familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH.”
According to the FH Foundation, people with FH are at risk for early heart attacks and heart disease. These people have high amounts of LDL, or bad cholesterol, due to a mutation in the gene that controls how the body disposes cholesterol. Because the LDL is staying in the arteries, it can build up along the walls, causing problems. But according to the FH Foundation, 90 percent of people who have the disease are undiagnosed.
“The genetic counselor explained to me what this meant not only for me, but also my family,” Dr. Higgins explained. “This damage can start really early, and you might even have kids who have high cholesterol even though they seem healthy. This information was especially beneficial for my mom. She has been on and off statins for years. She thought if she kept a healthy diet — ate a lot of oatmeal — exercised regularly, she could maybe improve her levels. But it never really worked. Now we know why.”
While diet and exercise are extremely important for those with high cholesterol, it won’t be enough for people with FH. They need the extra help that medication can provide to keep them healthy.
Finding what works
While medication can help control high cholesterol, over time, statins can start losing their effectiveness. If that occurs, information discovered with the Sanford Chip can help find a new drug that may work.
“All of that information is now in my electronic medical record,” Dr. Higgins said. “In the future if I need a new medication, they can see which one will work for me and my unique metabolism.”
Understanding which drugs may work the best for each individual person can help cut down on the trial-and-error timeline, meaning patients can see results and feel better faster.
Choose to be informed
While some people are hesitant to dive into their genes, Dr. Higgins has a few words of advice from her experience with genetic testing.
“Choose to be better informed. In my opinion, more knowledge — especially about your health — is always going to be better.”
Learn more about the Sanford Chip and genetic testing.
- Carrier test shows what genetics parents may pass to kids
- Genetic testing process: From blood sample to digitized DNA
- Genetics presents a more personalized care plan