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Question : My husband has schizophrenia. We would like to have children someday. But we are concerned about the risks of passing on mental illness to our children. Are there genetic tests available? If not, what are the risks?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is Senior Editor of Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller is in clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he has been on staff for more than 25 years.

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September 18, 2014
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Your concerns are well founded. The risk of schizophrenia is largely determined by the genes a person inherits.

People who eventually develop schizophrenia are usually vulnerable to it from birth. They have inherited genes that increase the risk.

There are currently no genetic tests to look for schizophrenia. No single gene causes it. The illness results from many genes working together.

However, we do have information about the risk. A child with one parent with schizophrenia has about a 10% risk of developing the illness. If both parents have schizophrenia, the child has almost a 50% risk.

These are sobering statistics. But we still have a lot to learn about this illness.

Scientists are only beginning to sort out the many, many genes involved in schizophrenia. Eventually they should find out what each gene does. Once we know the function of each gene, we can better predict who will get the illness. This information should make treatment better, too.

Here is one final and very important consideration. Schizophrenia is very hard to diagnose. So often the diagnosis is wrong.

Before you plan your family, get a second opinion. Your husband should review his diagnosis with another mental health professional. That way, you’ll be surer that your husband is getting the treatment he needs. And you will have a better chance of getting the genetic counseling that specifically meets your family’s needs.

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