What your family health history tells you
Family health history is an important factor in your overall health. You may learn you’re more or less likely to experience certain conditions throughout your life. It’s also an important factor in making major health decisions. Learn more about why your family history is important, what you should know and how to find out.
Why it’s important
Half of your genetic profile comes from each of your parents. These genes are the makeup of who you are, and can influence everything from your appearance to your behaviors. You might hear things like “you have your mother’s eyes,” but you might share her chances of having Type 2 diabetes.
Understanding your family health history can help you and your doctor have a better idea of your health, revealing more about your risk factors for certain diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Your family’s medical history can also help you make informed decisions about starting a family. Armed with this information, you’ll have a better understanding of the conditions you could potentially pass on to your children, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Having a family history of a certain disease doesn’t make it certain that you’ll have it. The opposite is also true. Just because a condition isn’t prevalent in your family doesn’t mean you can’t get it, explains the National Library of Medicine. But this information is still helpful and can help you and your doctor make smart health care choices.
What you should know
The American Medical Association recommends noting the following red flags in your family health history:
- Young or sudden deaths;
- Closely related people who share a condition or disease;
- Common disorders occurring younger than usual, especially if it’s experienced by multiple members of your family;
- Learning disabilities, birth anomalies and unexplained chronic symptoms; and,
- Miscarriages and stillbirths.
You should have a clear picture of all members of your family tree, know their birthdates and at what age they began to experience heath concerns. It’s helpful to have medical records and documents safely stored away, such as death certificates.
How to find it
There’s plenty of information to collect to develop a comprehensive family health history, and it can seem overwhelming. Use family gatherings and reunions as an opportunity to start these important discussions. There are a number of tools to approach these conversations and store the information. Check out the following options:
- The Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait;
- The National Kidney Disease Education Program’s Family Reunion Health Guide; and,
- The American Medical Association’s Adult Family History Form.
You owe it to yourself, your family and future generations to learn and record your family’s medical history. After you’ve collected all the information, update it regularly. Marriages, births and adoptions all change your family tree, so include the new members of your family in your health history, too.
With this information on hand, you can make smarter, more informed decisions about your health care.
Image source: Flickr