Getting married to your cousin? Get yourself tested
Docs urge pre and post-marital testing to avoid genetic disorders in babies.
More couples in consanguineous marriages (marriages between relatives), are heavily relying on comprehensive fetal screening programmes to determine the health of their unborn child and to check whether the baby carries genetic disorders, say medical experts in the UAE.
As consanguineous marriages are more commonly found in the Middle East than in the West, it is crucial for couples to be cautious about the genetic inheritance disorders they may carry, as it could affect the life, or even the survival rate of their child.
Doctor Gowri Ramanathan, Head of Obstetrics and Gynecology Services, and Director of Fetal Medicine at Danat Al Emarat, told Khaleej Times she approximately carries out four thousand scans each year, to determine the health of the unborn baby.
However, she noted that genetic abnormalities that are caused by consanguineous marriages are relatively high in the Capital.
"Out of all the abnormalities that are due to genetic syndrome, the rate of consanguineous marriages are about 30 to 40 per cent," she said.
"Approximately 60 per cent of the Emirati population have consanguineous marriages," she added.
She pointed out that it's crucial to be tested during the first stages of the pregnancy, known as the embryogenesis period.
"If both parents carry traits of the gene then there is a one in four chance the baby will be affected."
Doctors in the UAE thus urge couples to have pre-marital testing, as well as testing the baby during pregnancy. Depending on the results, management can be planned; however there are certain abnormalities that mean the baby won't survive.
"Genetic abnormality is a common case, which results in lethal risks and are often related to marriages between relatives. Abu Dhabi has a high rate of chromosomal genetic disorders due to this," she said.
She said that every pregnant woman should therefore be thoroughly assessed to see if there are potential chromosomal, genetic or structural abnormalities that may manifest themselves in the future.
"Some cases have lethal risks and therefore the baby dies during pregnancy, some die immediately after birth, and some survive but carry the disability throughout their lifetime."
Doctor Iyad Al Aqqad, from Al Mafraq Hospital's Pediatric Department, told Khaleej Times that 80 to 90 per cent of the genetic disorder cases that are diagnosed in the hospital are due to consanguineous marriages.
"Al Mafraq is located in Baniyas, which is a highly traditional area of the Capital, so it's very common to have marriages between relatives."
"Whenever we receive a child with a genetic disorder, there is an 80 to 90 per cent chance that the parents are either first or second degree relatives," he added.
Dr Al Aqqad pointed out that common cases also include inherited metabolic disorders.
"If we know it's inherited in the family we test the parents to know who is the force of the gene of the disorder, so we can determine if it will happen again."
He highlighted that not all parents know they carry the disease, as many diseases are often silent, and thus it is crucial to do a thorough testing prior to marriage.
Moreover, he said that it is crucial for couples to understand that there are different types of disorders, one known as the autosomal dominant, (one parents with abnormal gene), and the autosomal recessive, (abnormal gene in both parents).
"In consanguineous marriages, we mainly receive the autosomal recessive disorder and one of the most common genetic disorders in the UAE is thalassemia," he added.
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