When it comes to medication, one size doesn’t fit all. That’s because our genetic makeup influences how our body responds to certain pharmaceutical drugs. Think about it as you would an allergic reaction to food. You might enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. But your friend who carries a peanut allergy can experience life-threatening symptoms just for breathing the air that contains a peanut protein. These can include severe skin reactions, such as hives, or itching around the mouth and throat. 

Just as our stomach digests food, different organs work together to metabolize the ingredients inside a medicine before these components release into the bloodstream. And just as food can bring us some undesirable side effects, so can medication. A drug is primarily broken down in the liver, but the kidneys, GI tract, and lungs perform their metabolic functions before the medication leaves your system during urination. Thanks to pharmacogenomics (PGX), we now know that genes play a significant role in how well drugs work in the body and how effective the body works on the drug.

General Introduction to PGX 

Pharmacogenomics, also called pharmacogenetics, uses a saliva sample to study your genes and tailor drug treatment based on your genetic profile. Your body is a machine, and your genes control how well that machine operates. Because there are so many factors to consider, everyone responds to specific medications in their own unique way. That could mean dangerous side effects or adverse drug reactions (ADRs), that could make you severely ill or potentially hospitalize you. 

ADRs are responsible for over 135,000 hospitalizations each year, 100,000 fatalities, and over 2 million injuries. Although some adverse drug reactions aren’t severe – you may only experience mild nausea, dizziness, or a headache from taking medication from a specific drug class, but others can be fatal. You may be unaware, but ADRs are preventable, and by taking a pharmacogenetic test you can gain valuable knowledge as to which medications might be more efficient, which are potentially harmful, and those to avoid entirely to personalize your drug therapy regimen.  

How Does Pharmacogenomics Work?

Genetic variants, also known as gene mutations, influence our response to medication in several different ways. We may all have the same organs and body parts, but our traits are unique, such as the shade of our hair, the color of our eyes, and height. After we take medicine orally, our bodies begin to process the drug. Once it arrives in the GI tract, it’s broken down by stomach acids before passing through the liver and entering the bloodstream. Depending on the dosage and the drug class you consume, particular medications stay in your system longer. 

Age, weight, gender, stress levels, and many more factors impact the way your body absorbs the medication. Depending on these circumstances, the effectiveness of the drug might wear off before it even reaches the bloodstream. If you have a rapid metabolism, you may require higher and more frequent doses of a drug to achieve a therapeutic benefit. If your metabolism is the opposite, you may need lower and fewer doses to avoid an adverse drug reaction. By understanding how you process a particular drug, you and your physician can tailor a prescription strategy based on your genetic makeup. 

Pharmacogenomics makes that possible. Taking a pharmacogenetic (PGX) test can lead to a significantly safer outcome because it can help determine the correct drug and dose, the first time. If you’ve ever been a sufferer of medication trial and error, you know how frustrating it is to be on the hunt for what works. Pharmacogenetic testing may reduce your likelihood of creating adverse side effects from prescriptions that you are presently taking or may require in the future. Testing is safe, affordable, and paving the way for personalized drug therapy. 

PGX Testing Benefits 

We all like to personalize items to make them ours. Perhaps you enjoy treating yourself to a keychain that has your name on it, or you like to customize your footwear selection. We also savor learning new things about ourselves. In healthcare, PGX testing can be an innovative resolution to some of the most dangerous medicine obstacles. Pharmacogenetic tests offer many benefits during all stages of life. Here are examples of some. 

Children and Teens – Because of differences that arise during the stages of development, rational drug prescribing can be difficult. Identifying gene variants and their functions through pharmacogenetic (PGX) testing can increase the ability to predict drug response in children and guide the treatment of pediatric diseases such as psychiatric and behavioral disorders. 

Adults – As we age, we tend to take multiple drugs for various medical disorders. PGX testing can help your doctor determine the best medication, and appropriate dosage of a drug class to potentially reduce the number of prescriptions you take and eliminate harmful side effects in the process. 

Seniors – Nearly 40% of adults 65 or older take multiple medications. Because of this, seniors are more prone to developing adverse drug reactions and hospitalizations. Pharmacogenetics can detect the gene mutations that are sensitive to these prescriptions, to reduce the number of medications taken, and improve outcomes. 

Taking a pharmacogenetic test enables the selection for the right doses from the right drug classes and personalizes them to you. 

Pharmacogenomics and Cancer Genomics 

Pharmacogenetic testing is becoming a significant instrument in cancer research. The study of how medication interacts with genes is joining forces with the study of the entire genome to express mutation differences in tumor cells and normal cells. Cancer is a disease that develops from mutations that cause cells to grow uncontrollably, as a result of environmental or hereditary factors. Pharmacogenomics can personalize cancer medicine by finding appropriate medications more quickly. 

Evidence-based PGX guidance is now affordable and available to for over 20 genes and 200+ medications across specific drug classes. It helps to create personalized drug therapy for those who receive cancer diagnoses such as breast cancer, ovarian, prostate, melanoma, and more. Genetic differences mean that what may be safe or work for you may not work well for another. The application of pharmacogenomics in cancer treatment will improve patient safety, healthcare costs, and efficiency. 

PGX and Genetic Counseling

If you decide to test, you should never attempt to adjust your prescriptions yourself after receiving results. A genetic counselor provides an invaluable support system because all of them undergo specialized training in genetics and counseling. If you are considering testing, having a conversation with your counselor about questions or concerns can help you decide if it’s right for you. He or she can discuss family history, help you cope with emotions, and listen to you as you process information.

Pharmacogenetics is a relatively new field of pharmacology that is studying the way we respond to drugs. It’s becoming a useful tool to increase successful outcomes, stop adverse drug reactions before they start, and improve your overall quality of care. As we continue to implement and evolve the use of pharmacogenetic testing in clinical settings, you may look forward to your doctor telling you to take two pills and call him in the morning.

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