Genetic variations are the differences in DNA between individuals, with over 324 million known genetic variants. These are what makes you uniquely you! Your genes can also affect your body’s response to prescription drugs, which is why certain medications may be more effective for some people over others.
Pharmacogenetics, or PGx for short, can help identify your genetic makeup and predict how you might respond to certain medications. This allows doctors to make more precise medication and dosage recommendations to help you get better, faster.
This blog post explains all you need to know about the PGx testing process so that you can enjoy a clearer understanding of this innovative and personal approach to medicine.
What is PGx Testing?
Also referred to as pharmacogenomics, PGx is a discipline that studies how an individual’s genetics influence their reaction to a medication. PGx testing combines pharmacology (the science of drugs) and genomics (the study of DNA, genes, and their functions) to develop effective, safe medications and doses that are customized to a person’s genetic makeup.
Each body breaks down and responds to medication differently depending on several factors, one of which is your DNA. Your DNA contains genes that are responsible for telling the body how to make enzymes, which break down medications. Genetic variations affect how these enzymes are produced, and how they are produced affects drug metabolism. How your body metabolizes and responds to different medications is affected by your DNA. Your DNA can help doctors know more about how your body responds to different medications.
How Does Pharmacogenomics Work?
Medicine interacts with your body in several ways, depending on how you consume the medicine, as well as where the medicine needs to act in your body. Often your body needs to convert the medicine into an active form for it to have its intended therapeutic effect.
Your DNA can affect multiple steps in this process outlined above to influence how you respond to medication. Doctors can sequence the variation in DNA using a pharmacogenetic test. After collecting your sample, your DNA is sent off to a laboratory for sequencing and analysis. These snippets of DNA can help give your doctor an idea of how your drug-metabolizing enzymes respond to a given prescription.
The PGx test results can help enable healthcare providers to prescribe personalized medicine tailored to your body’s unique genetic makeup.
For example, if your body breaks down a treatment drug too quickly, you may experience limitations in symptomatic relief, especially if prescribed a low amount.
This is extremely relevant to antidepressants, as the popular medication amitriptyline is broken down by enzymes, coded by two specific genes called CYP2D6 and CYP2C19. Each enzyme breaks down the medication differently and genes code for functional differences. If your body breaks down amitriptyline too quickly, you likely will not feel as much benefit at typical doses.
If this is the case for you, your doctor will be able to identify this issue through pharmacogenomics and increase your initial medication dose accordingly. This bypasses the frustration of trying medications that do not work for you, enabling substantial treatment progress to be made in a shorter span of time.
What is a Pharmacogenomics Test?
DNA is collected for PGx tests in two main ways: via a saliva sample or a blood test. This initial genetic test will provide doctors with the information they need to understand the speed at which medications are expected to be metabolized in your body.
At Prairie Health, we opt for a non-invasive cheek swab test, as research shows it produces reliable results without compromising comfort.
To perform a cheek swab test, you will need to firmly rub the swab on the inside of your cheek for approximately one minute. The combination of friction and length of time enables epithelial cells to be painlessly collected onto the swab, which is used to isolate your unique DNA. A completed swab is then ready to be sent off for testing.
Though the swabbing process is relatively quick and easy, there are certain rules within the procedure that must be adhered to. If these rules are not followed properly, there is an increased risk of inaccurate results.
The procedure and rules for our pharmacogenomics test are as follows:
- You should not drink or eat anything for one hour before taking your swab sample.
- Place the swab equipment on a clean, flat surface to limit external interference.
- Holding onto the swab, firmly rub the inside of both your cheeks. Be careful not to touch anything else with the swab tip including lips, tongue and teeth.
- Rotate the swab as you do this, and keep rubbing for between 30 and 60 seconds.
- Place the swab into the vial. Be careful not to touch the part that was just in your mouth.
- Snap off the vial at its detailed breaking point, so that the swab-end comfortably fits in the vial.
- Ensure the vial is closed before placing it into the clear plastic bag and sealing it.
- Put the sealed bag inside your welcome kit box before sealing the box too.
- Finally, you can drop the welcome kit off at your nearest USPS mailbox or post office.
For more information about our pharmacogenetic test, take a look at our detailed guide here.
Benefits of PGx Testing
There are several benefits of utilizing pharmacogenomics and PGx tests for a better and more holistic treatment experience. As a result, many top healthcare providers have started incorporating it into their approach to treatment.
From increased efficiency to preventing adverse drug reactions, PGx testing offers patients and doctors alike a wealth of advantages. The main benefits include the following:
Less Trial and Error:
With PGx testing, doctors can prescribe personalized medicine to clients based on known drug-gene interactions. PGx test results can reduce the number of hours required to find the correct medication for each client, and subsequently save patients money by eliminating unnecessary medications.
Complete Road Map for Treatment – Correct Medications in Correct Dosages:
A thorough and more detailed course of treatment is more easily predicted by doctors as a result of PGx testing, enabling clients to have a greater understanding of their care plan from start to finish. Doctors can build a comprehensive progress plan surrounding individual clients for a personalized approach to mental health management.
The typical one-size-fits-all approach to medication can be disheartening to those who suffer from mental health issues, especially if the treatment is ineffective. PGx testing informs doctors of the efficiency of medication breakdown for people with specific gene variants. This provides valuable insights for dosing and side effects, which can help doctors craft a customized treatment that optimizes the compatibility between one’s medication and metabolism to increase the likelihood that they are prescribed what works for them.
Reduction of Adverse Drug Response:
PGx can reduce, and oftentimes prevent, unwelcome side effects from medication. Adverse reactions to prescription drugs lead to significant amounts of hospitalization in the US every year. In some cases, these adverse reactions can be fatal.
The use of PGx testing enables doctors to identify certain drugs that may cause an increased risk of negative side effects based on a given patient’s genetic profile. Doctors can then choose a different medication or prescribe at lower doses to reduce the chance the patient experiences undesirable side effects.
Improved Results with Mental Health Medication:
PGx tests can be helpful for non-white individuals. Historically, antidepressants were mainly tested on white men, and their formulation was based on their responses. However, studies show that people of different ethnic groups may have different genetic makeups that affect how they respond to medication. Similarly, women tend to respond differently than men to the same medication.
Pharmacogenetic testing enables doctors to observe a clearer picture, combining aspects of this genetic testing with the client’s lifestyle, environmental circumstances, and personal experiences to gauge the best-individualized treatment plan.
Healthcare providers use pharmacogenetic test results to inform them of specific medications that will work best with the patient’s genetic profile. When treating mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, it is essential that adverse reactions are minimized, and the correct dosage and medication are administered, to prevent worsening symptoms.
Why Prairie Health Uses Pharmacogenomics
PGx testing is one of Prairie Health’s main services that allow us to provide better mental health care. At Prairie Health, one of our principal commitments as a healthcare provider is offering accessibility to treatment.
Pharmacogenomics benefits how we deliver mental health care within our depression and anxiety care services.
Studies show that antidepressants are more likely to be administered at inappropriate doses when prescribed by a primary care physician. Primary care physicians often do not have similar levels of training that psychiatrists do when it comes to psychopharmacology or medications for mental health conditions. Having an expert psychiatrist can help alleviate this and set a more appropriate starting dosage.
Our team of expert psychiatrists uses pharmacogenomics to further inform their patient’s treatment plans while minimizing the risk of side effects.
In addition to pharmacogenomics, Prairie Health offers regular and continuous interaction with psychiatrists via online video calls and other regular interactions at your convenience. This allows a holistic approach to truly restore mental health.
At Prairie Health, your well-being is our number one priority. That is why we offer free pharmacogenomics testing to all our clients, ensuring an effective, fast-working treatment plan with the progress you can feel.
Our genetic testing is non-invasive and easy to do, with a home delivery welcome box providing you with a swab test kit.
Custom Depression and Anxiety Treatment:
When treating depression and anxiety, Prairie psychiatrists use a pharmacogenetic test to find the dose most suited for you. We know that sex and ethnicity play a role in how you metabolize medication. Utilizing pharmacogenomic testing in psychiatry enables our expert psychiatrists to develop customized mental health treatment plans that are suited to your specific genetic makeup. As a result, you can enjoy an optimized care plan that prioritizes high-quality, data-driven care.
PGx testing enables you to make improvements in a shorter amount of time, due to less medication switching and a greater likelihood of starting on medication without severe side effects. This gives you a greater chance of improving sooner. Being able to see or feel progress is essential when it comes to mental health medication.
Past research shows that between 10 to 60% of people on antidepressants do not take their medication regularly, with one reason being that they could not identify any changes to their mental health. Suddenly stopping medication without medical supervision can lead to an array of negative side effects, which may increase mental distress. Being able to experience positive effects earlier may increase adherence to the treatment plan.
The one-size-fits-all approach to medication is outdated. At Prairie Health, we are keen to share the benefits of using genetic information and pharmacogenetic testing with all our clients to help personalize treatment. By enhancing the compatibility between medication and genetics, a more effective and quick treatment plan can begin.
If you wonder how you might benefit from genetic testing, you can take our free PGx quiz to learn more about whether genetic testing will be right for you and sign up for our PrecisionStart program to begin your journey to feeling better.