Understanding your family health history is a vital part to understanding what health complications you may develop in your lifetime.
What is family health history?
Family health history is a record of the diseases and health conditions that have affected your close blood relatives. Genes, which you attain from your parents, are shared amongst all of your family members. You literally share the same DNA, and the coding within your DNA is what determines your genetic predisposition for developing those certain diseases or health conditions.
In addition to genes, families typically (although not always) share the same behaviors. Examples of these behaviors include eating similar diets, following similar activity levels, and sharing similar schedules as to how often one visits their doctor.
How do I learn my family health history?
You may already know some of your family health history, or you may know none of it at all. No matter how much you do or do not know now, you can always learn more. Family health history is attained by asking your family members what health conditions or diseases they have been diagnosed with, and even what they know about others in your family that may have passed on.
It is important to make sure loved ones are open and honest about these things with you, and this can be ensured by approaching the conversation openly as well. Knowing your predispositions is important for your health, and the health of your children should you have any. Collecting this information will provide your doctor a better image of what care you personally need and may mean the difference between a screening being covered by insurance or not.
Family gatherings are the perfect opportunity to discuss family health history with your loved ones. Collect information on any of your relatives that you can, but most importantly your closest relatives.
Specific information that you will need to collect includes that on any major health conditions, how old this individual was when they were diagnosed, how old your family member was when they passed, cause of death, as well as any other pertinent information that is significant to their medical history. If it is significant to their medical history, it is likely significant to your family health history.
Be sure to check in with your loved ones often as years pass to keep the information up to date with any new potential developments. It may be a good idea to designate a folder on your computer or a tangible folder in your paperwork regarding this information, so that you can access it for reference when preparing for any medical appointments.
Why is family health history important for my health?
The diseases and health complications that affect your family members may affect you. Your family shares a gene pool, and this pool of genes may contain DNA sequences that code for certain diseases to develop. In addition to the gene pool, your family is likely to share behaviors that may increase your risk of developing certain diseases as well.
Most families have a member that has been affected by at least one, if not more than one, chronic disease, whether this be cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or something else. If you do have a family member that has been diagnosed with one of these diseases, then you yourself are more likely to develop that disease yourself for the previously mentioned reasons of genetics and behavior.
Noting the age that this family member was diagnosed is important, especially if the disease onset earlier than average. Knowing this information is pertinent for you so that you can be adequately screened around that age and after.
Take for example the following hypothetical scenario. You have a mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32, which is earlier than most breast cancer diagnoses. Having this information will clue your doctor in to the fact that you will need mammogram screenings with higher frequency at an earlier age than the average person, and depending on your insurance plan, the frequency may be covered due to your predisposition.
Is there anything I can do to improve my health once I know my family health history?
While you cannot change your genetics, you can change any unhealthy behaviors that predispose you to developing health complications. Smoking, being physically inactive, and having a poor diet are the largest three factors to take into consideration when you consider your health.
In addition, preventative care is another way you can take your healthcare into your own hands. This involves living healthily, but also seeing your primary care physician for your wellness checkups and completing your routine screenings as needed.
Healthy habits reduce your risk for developing diseases that do or do not run in your family, and it is a good idea to incorporate them into your routine so that you can stay the healthiest you that you can be.
Use the following graphics to collect your family health history during this holiday season: