FFFPharmacogenetic Testing

No. 128; Updated December 2019

Recent advances in blood/tissue testing have made it possible to “map a person’s genes.” Genes are the human body’s blueprint to build cells and organs. Genetic testing allows us to learn how the genes in DNA an individual inherited from their parents might affect their health. Pharmacogenetic (pharmaco- like pharmaceutical and genetic- like genes) testing (also known as pharmacogenomics) refers to testing a person’s genetic make up to see how their body processes different medications. Specifically, pharmacogenetic testing helps us learn how effectively and how quickly a person’s body might process certain medications. To obtain the DNA for testing, the patient’s cheek is swabbed, and the sample is sent to a lab to process the pharmacogenetic information.

Pharmacogenetic testing CAN tell your doctor:

  • How quickly your child’s body might process a medication
  • How effectively your child’s body might process a medication

Pharmacogenetic testing CANNOT tell your doctor:

  • Which medication will work most effectively for your child
  • Whether or not a medication will cause side effects
  • What side effect a medication might cause for your child

In some cases when patients have tried multiple medications without improvement, a doctor might order pharmacogenetic testing to get more information about a patient’s genetic make-up. The pharmacogenetic test results will be used in combination with information from the patient’s past treatment to make decisions about future medications. Most pharmacogenetic testing has been studied in adults and not children, which your doctor will also need to take into consideration.

Choosing a medication to address your child’s mental health problems is a complex process. A doctor takes into consideration many factors to find the safest and most effective medication. Children often have a difficult time describing side effects while experiencing mental health problems. Simply relying on pharmacogenomic testing to make this decision is misleading – it should not be used in all cases. Working with your provider to sort out the side effects and other risks and benefits of different medications will be likely to be more helpful than pharmacogenetic testing in most cases. Research about pharmacogenetic testing and the value it can give to patient care is still ongoing. Bring any questions you may have to your doctor.