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N Engl J Med. 1992 Nov 12;327(20):1401-5.

The psychological consequences of predictive testing for Huntington's disease. Canadian Collaborative Study of Predictive Testing.

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Department of Health Care and Epidemiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.



Advances in molecular genetics have led to the development of tests that can predict the risk of inheriting the genes for several adult-onset diseases. However, the psychological consequences of such testing are not well understood.


The 135 participants in the Canadian program of genetic testing to predict the risk of Huntington's disease were followed prospectively in three groups according to their test results: the increased-risk group (37 participants), the decreased-risk group (58 participants), and the group with no change in risk (the no-change group) (40 participants). All the participants received counseling before and after testing. Standard measures of psychological distress (the General Severity Index of the Symptom Check List 90-R), depression (the Beck Depression Inventory), and well-being (the General Well-Being Scale) were administered before genetic testing and again at intervals of 7 to 10 days, 6 months, and 12 months after the participants received their test results.


At each follow-up assessment, the decreased-risk group had lower scores for distress than before testing (P < 0.001). The increased-risk group showed no significant change from base line on any follow-up measure, but over the year of study there were small linear declines (P < 0.023) for distress and depression. The no-change group had scores lower than at base line on the index of general well-being at each follow-up (P < or = 0.045). At the 12-month follow-up, both the increased-risk group and the decreased-risk group had lower scores for depression and higher scores for well-being than the no-change group (P < or = 0.049).


Predictive testing for Huntington's disease has potential benefits for the psychological health of persons who receive results that indicate either an increase or a decrease in the risk of inheriting the gene for the disease.

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