For instance, for me, my father had heart disease. He had a severe heart attack at age 53. That sounds really young to me nowadays! He also suffered from an aneurysm. He had a heart transplant at age 58. That still seems young to me now! He had some small strokes and passed away a little over a year ago from kidney failure. I know I have heart disease in my family so I try to take all the steps to take care of my heart. There is also the strokes that my doctor might need to know about and keep in mind as I get older. Knowing these things makes me make certain decisions about how I take care of myself.
My mother has a few health issues of her own, one being macular degeneration. She is now legally blind. Because of this, at my last eye check-up, my doctor recommended that I take vitamins specifically for the eyes and always wear sunglasses to help prevent this condition. My mother also has rheumatoid arthritis. I try to keep moving and continue to use my joints and strength train in the event I inherit that condition. She has some other things in her medical history that I also consider and discuss with my doctor.
I recently lost my brother in a sudden event caused by a medical condition. He suffered a traumatic brain aneurysm and stroke. (It actually took me 10 whole minutes to even type out that sentence. I guess that is progress). So, taking all three of these close relatives in consideration, I guess I wanted to know if there is a pattern that I need to be worried about. There are some special tests that can be done so I know what I need to do and not do to be as healthy as I can be.
It’s quite fitting that I was thinking about all of this. I’ll bet you didn’t know that in 2004, the Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving “National Family Medical History Day.”
The purpose was to encourage families to talk about and write down known, genetic health problems. A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. If it’s so important, why have only one-third of us has ever tried to gather our health history? As Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I thought it was important to share this with you and remind us all why discussing our medical histories is important. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
. If your doctor is trying to match your symptoms with a possible disease, knowledge of existing genetic disposition might help them pinpoint the problem.
. Many diseases can be passed along to our children due to our genetic make-up (vulnerability due to genetic make-up). Knowing you’re more susceptible can help you prevent (or monitor symptoms of) various illnesses.
Doctors have known for a long time that common diseases like heart disease, cancer (think about the BRCA gene mutation in breast cancer) and diabetes, as well rare diseases like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, can run in families. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure.
Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders you may be at risk for, so you can take action before it’s too late. For instance, you might be more compelled to control your high blood pressure before it causes a stroke or kills your kidneys.
Families have many factors in common, including their genes, environment, and lifestyle. Together, these factors can give clues to medical conditions that may run in a family. By noticing patterns of disorders among relatives, healthcare professionals can determine whether an individual, other family members, or future generations may be at an increased risk of developing a particular condition.
A family medical history can identify people with a higher-than-usual chance of having common disorders, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, and diabetes. These complex disorders are influenced by a combination of genetic factors, environmental conditions, and lifestyle choices. A family history also can provide information about the risk of rarer conditions caused by mutations in a single gene, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia.
While a family medical history provides information about the risk of specific health concerns, having relatives with a medical condition does not mean that an individual will definitely develop that condition. On the other hand, a person with no family history of a disorder may still be at risk of developing that disorder.
Knowing one’s family medical history allows a person to take steps to reduce his or her risk. For people at an increased risk of certain cancers, healthcare professionals may recommend more frequent screening (such as mammography or colonoscopy) starting at an earlier age. Healthcare providers may also encourage regular checkups or testing for people with a medical condition that runs in their family. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthier diet, getting regular exercise, and quitting smoking help many people lower their chances of developing heart disease and other common illnesses.
This is called preventive medicine, and it cannot be successfully accomplished unless you know your family medical history.
The easiest way to get information about family medical history is to talk to relatives about their health. Have they had any medical problems, and when did they occur?
A family gathering could be a good time to discuss these issues. Additionally, obtaining medical records and other documents (such as obituaries and death certificates) can help complete a family medical history. It is important to keep this information up-to-date and to share it with a healthcare professional regularly.
Now, I know this might not make the best dinner table conversation during the Thanksgiving meal, but maybe it will get your wheels spinning about talking about family medical histories during the time you are together with your family.
As I stated earlier, consider this preventative medicine.
By the way, while at the doctor we realized I hadn’t had a mammogram in two years . . . Terrible! DO NOT DO THAT!