Knowing Your Family History is Good for Your Health

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image(Family Features) A number of celebrities have graced recent headlines by making some drastic decisions about their health, and in turn, raising awareness for the importance of knowing one’s family medical history. For instance, according to the CDC, a history of breast, cervical or ovarian cancer indicates a strong risk of cancer in some women, and thus proactive and preventative measures, like having a mastectomy or hysterectomy, may be warranted.

While facing these decisions can be difficult, Brittney Wilson, a registered nurse, knows first-hand the positive effect that knowing one’s family medical history can have on a patient’s overall health. Since many diseases tend to follow genetic lines, it’s important to know your roots in order to make better lifestyle choices. For example, if you have a history of common medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, you have a higher chance of developing them as well, but prevention is possible.

Nurse Wilson offers steps you can take to develop a family medical history record that will help inform your lifestyle choices and serve generations to come.

Step 1: Seek answers to lingering questions

You inherit half of your genetic profile from each parent. So, the first step in establishing your family medical history is to seek answers to any doubts or questions you may have about your parents’ identity. In today’s society, and with the rising rate of children born out of wedlock, this situation is actually more common than you might think. In fact, a recent survey conducted on behalf of Identigene, a DNA paternity test laboratory, concluded that one out of ten Americans has personally been in a situation where a paternity test was needed. In addition, nearly one out of five respondents said that they or a close friend or family member has questioned paternity. However, discovering your paternity can be fairly simple. A kit, such the Identigene DNA Paternity Test, is available at nationwide drug stores and supercenters, and offers 100 percent accurate and confidential results within a matter of days.

 

Step 2: Talk to your family

The best way to gather information about your medical history is to talk with relatives about their health. An upcoming holiday gathering or family reunion is a great opportunity to start the conversation. Explain why you want to learn more about your family history and ask direct, specific questions to uncover any reoccurring medical issues and when they occurred. Consult existing documents, such as family trees, birth certificates and obituaries, to help obtain this information. From these materials, you can begin identifying potential patterns that should be discussed with a doctor.

Step 3: Be proactive about getting healthy

After identifying potential patterns, make a point to discuss them with your primary care doctor at your next annual exam. A medical professional might suggest necessary screening and proactive steps you can take to help stay healthy and avoid certain predisposed conditions in the future. It’s also a good idea to continue to update your family medical history record to help future generations navigate their health.

Preventative care is the most cost effective and least invasive way to ensure your health and prevent illness. Being aware of your family’s medical history is the first step towards making informed choices for a healthier lifestyle.

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3 comments
Rachel Koren
Rachel Koren

Brittney, thank you so much for this post! Family health history is so important in health. If anyone is looking for a good resource on how to get started collecting a family health history, visit www.GenesInLife.org. They'll mail you free copies of their Family Health History toolkit to you with advice on how to broach the subject with family and how to organize the information and share it with a healthcare provider. It's a great and free resource to share with families and really helped me take the initiative to finally ask about health history.

HealthyElephant
HealthyElephant

I would encourage a trip to a genetic counselor with the info from 23andme though.... it can be upsetting to find out you have to gene for lung cancer for example.... the information needs to be put into perspective.

HealthyElephant
HealthyElephant

23and me.com offers $99 genetic testing that can be very valuable. However, choices in lifestyle can "cover up" or make genes express. Just because you have the gene for cancer doesn't mean that you will get it -- unless it gets expressed. (Called epigenetics) Our daily lifestyle choices are HUGE if you want to stay healthy.

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