Do DNA tests, imperfect as they are right now, help us take control of our health, but do they also make us feel out of control of ourselves?
This little hypochondriac has unearthed a little nugget of gold. Some time ago, I bought the MyHeritage DNA test, mainly for the ethnicity report. (I don’t really care about genealogy. In fact, I think the less known the better. Who knows who could be hiding up in your family tree? Better to take an ax to it and don’t look back.) Recently I purchased the health report. I know, it’s shocking I haven’t done it sooner, right? What with my talking about so-called imaginary problems all this time, you’d have thought I’d done it already. But I never really felt like paying for it, and this time it was on sale, and I figured, why not, give me something else to be anxious about. Plus, I got a free one year subscription, which means I get more reports as new tests become available! Which equals more stuff to worry about! What a win!
So, anyway. My curiosity was rewarded with an increased risk of “hereditary thrombophilia,” a blood-clotting disorder.
There’s a lot of controversy out there about these DNA tests. They only test for certain conditions and within those conditions, certain gene variants. It doesn’t cover everything. However, I don’t believe that someone should just brush it off as “Oh, these tests are not accurate anyway, so I probably don’t have it.” How do you know? Only if you get it further checked out. I figure, I should just live my life, for now, as though I have the elevated risk. At some later date, I’ll take it up with my doctor when I get up the courage to mention the test and face his ridicule.
It makes you wonder, though, what other sorts of medical time-bombs lurk in the strands of our DNA. Movies and stories about DNA have been done ad nauseum so I won’t even go there. I’m not looking at it as a battle between freedom and genetic fate but really only as a practical matter. What kind of problems do we unknowingly carry around? All it takes is one trigger, one tripwire, before it is activated and we suffer the consequences.
For instance, with thrombophilia, the clots very often form in the legs (like how people who travel on airplanes for many hours need to be careful). These clots can break loose and travel to the heart or lungs. These conditions are not fun and could be fatal. Now I’m worried that because I cannot sit on a chair like a normal human being, but only as a pretzel, could I be increasing the danger of forming such a clot in my legs? All this time I have been doing this without ever knowing if it could have bad results or not. Are we creating the breeding ground for these problems just through our normal, habitual behavior?
Do we really even know ourselves at all? Can we ever? We have our subconscious, our unconscious, our DNA. Who knows what else. But we think we know ourselves, and yet we walk around all day long not knowing 99.99% of who we are. Not only that, but they say that we have slightly more bacterial cells than our own cells. We don’t know anything about who these guys are and what they want out of life, and yet they outnumber us.
I’m not trying to get deep here. It’s all just a little uncanny, in my opinion, that we can’t possibly know ourselves. We just pick up little clues here and there–our personalities, or our freckles–and try to piece together who we think this person might be. So finding something out from a DNA test can be exciting because it’s like being handed another puzzle piece to a puzzle of infinite pieces that make us who we are. Or it can be scary as hell, for some people, I imagine.
In some ways, though, it just seems so sad, that we live in this broken, fallen world, and all of us carry some flaws within. Every second we are dying. We are all unique and yet we will never know the extent of it. It seems like we only ever find out what is killing us.
Long story short, I feel a little validated about my fears of illness. I’m not quite as crazy (quite) as I usually sound. Unless, of course, there is some sort of conspiracy in which MyHeritage is being paid by my doctors to tell me I have something so I can go back to them with this report in hand only to be told I am crazy, so that eventually I am in fact driven crazy and have to be sent involuntarily to a hospital where they never have to listen to me again and all parties involved get kickbacks. Hmmm…..
What is your opinion or experience with this topic?