Know Your Family History

Having a close family member with a specific illness may suggest that you may carry certain genes and you may be at risk as well. Knowing your family history is one of the most important factors in knowing how to prevent or reduce that risk.

All family members can benefit from the same knowledge, and when there is a concern about an illness, the family history plays a major role when creating a treatment plan. Families share the same genes as well as lifestyles, environment and habits. Detailed health history is especially important when there is a suspicion of a disease such as diabetes, heart problems or cancer.

The most effective way to learn about your health background is to ask questions. Speaking to your blood relatives will allow you to better understand your family’s chronology and create a viable record which can be shared with your doctor when necessary. It is important to update the information as you learn more along the way.

Your family physician will assess the data, determine if you are at risk and suggest solutions to minimize it. In many cases, screening tests are recommended to detect any illness early. If there is a history of any chronic disease, special recommendations may be advised such as changes in lifestyle and diet.

An organized and useful family health history record that contains accurate information should include information going back at least three generations. Dates of birth, age people were diagnosed and the date of their demise along with the reason for passing will help you to create a document that contains detailed family tree. As some diseases only affect women and some only men, the gender of your past ancestors also should be recorded.

A lot of emphasis has been put within the recent decades on learning about family history as it can lead to prevention of many diseases and healthy choices. Thanksgiving has been declared a National Family Health History Day in 2004 by US Surgeon General. Many programs have been created since then through the social media to educate the population about the benefits of learning their family history.

A library of resources is now available online to aid people in learning how to collect any pertinent data about their blood relatives going back several generations. Most important questions typically include data about any diseases experienced by previous family members. The summary includes the following:

  • Name of the relative
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Occupation
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • If deceased, cause of death

Any history of:

  • Mental illness
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Birth defects
  • Heart disease
  • Strokes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Asthma
  • Miscarriage/Stillbirth
  • Loss of vision
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Any other conditions

The decision to share this information with family members is personal and carries certain responsibilities. However, most people appreciate the effort and often designate one person to keep the information current and distributed amongst all relatives as more data becomes available. When people are aware of any hereditary conditions they may have, they are more inclined to take preventive measures and make healthy choices in the future.