How a simple blood test got me thinking about our behaviour and choices

By: Hannah Critchlow | How a simple blood test got me thinking about our behaviour and choices | Neuroscience | The Guardian

I was nervous about inheriting a family condition – which helped me understand our brains and the direction lives take

One stifling day at the beginning of the long, hot summer of 2018, I sat in the waiting room at my GP’s surgery. Outside it was dazzlingly bright, but inside the fluorescent lights were still humming. A buoyant doctor strode out and called my name. I took hold of my two-year-old son’s hand and we followed her down the corridor into a small room where she took a sample of my blood. The vial contained thousands of white blood cells. Hidden inside each one was my DNA, the 3.2bn-lettered code unique to every human being that is the blueprint for life.

My son and I were at hospital because my father had been diagnosed with haemochromatosis, an inherited condition in which iron levels slowly build up in the body. Eventually the excess iron begins to damage internal organs and, if left untreated, it can lead to heart disease, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. Thankfully, in my father’s case, the organ damage was not too far advanced, but because the condition had gone undiagnosed for decades he now has to undergo weekly bloodlettings. This treatment, while intrusive, means he is otherwise in good health. A happy outcome for him and those of us who love him.

I felt relief, but what if the condition affected my son?

Most of our decision-making takes place without us being aware

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