Knowing your family health history could mean a healthier future for you and your family. Talking about conditions that have plagued your family is not always easy, but if it could help future generations prevent diseases, it is worthwhile.
Families share many common factors including their environment, genes and lifestyle. When families all share these factors it is easier to discover patterns of disease that may be passed on to later generations. It is also important to visit your healthcare provider frequently for check ups and screenings, exercise regularly and eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
Healthcare professionals suggest that you know at least three generations worth of previous health records. Knowing your family’s risk factors can help you reduce your risk of developing the same disorders. Remember that just because a disease is prevalent in your family does not mean that you will inherit it, and that you may develop diseases that are not widespread in your family.
The simplest way to create a comprehensive family health history would be to speak with your family members. If your family resides in a central location, you could get everyone together during the holidays or for a family reunion. You can all share information and everyone in the family will feel better knowing that they can take steps to reduce their risk of certain diseases. If necessary, you may want to obtain medical records and other documents such as obituaries and death certificates.
What to ask?
It might be a little uncomfortable to randomly bring up cancer and heart disease at the family dinner table, but knowing this information could help save future generations. Some of the questions you should be asking are:
- Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?
- How old were you when each of these diseases were diagnosed?
- Has anyone in your family been tested for genetic mutations?
- What countries did our ancestry originate?
- Do you know of any deceased family members? What age did they pass away, and what was the cause of death?
Once you have the answers to these questions documented make sure you keep them in a safe place and update them periodically. Also let your healthcare provider know about any new discoveries in case you need to be screened.
Recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Surgeon General launched the Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative where you can easily record your information and share it with your healthcare provider.
What if I was adopted?
If you are trying to find the medical history of your biological parents but do not have any contact information for them, you may have to dig a little deeper to find the information you need. If possible, talk to your adoptive parents and ask them if they have any medical information from when you were adopted. If your parents do not have any of your medical information, try contacting the adoption agency and request your medical records. Not all agencies have these records on file, but it is becoming more common. Remember that your genetic makeup is not the only influence on diseases. Environmental and lifestyle factors also play a large role in your health, so if you are having trouble getting your health history don’t worry too much. You can always start your family history with you!
Some of the most common hereditary diseases and disorders include:
- Learning disabilities and developmental delays
- Prostate Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Heart Disease
- Glaucoma, blindness, macular degeneration and other eye conditions
- Breast Cancer
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Early, unexplained death
By doing some extra research, you can be rest-assured to have a healthy life ahead, as well as ensuring the rest of your family healthy lives.
Bobbi Phelps produces content on behalf of the eye doctors at EyeCare 20/20. An avid writer and learner, she loves to use her skills for engaging others in important topics in creative and effective ways. When she is not working, she loves exploring, hanging out with her dogs, and binge watching shows on Netflix. Tweet her @Bobbi_Phelps or connect with her on LinkedIn.