Family Health History Part I: Why is it important?



Many health problems have a genetic component to it. Yet, many of us never look back at our past for lessons for the future. Until health history repeats itself. Take me, for example. I was quite ill in 2001 and it took many different tests before I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease. My doctor then asked afterwards “Why didn’t you tell me you have a family history of thyroid problems?” I completely forgot that my mom had her thyroids taken when I was little girl. However, because of my diagnosis, it wasn’t a complete surprise when 5 years later, my niece and then 2 years later one of my nephews had similar problems.

Eight years ago, from out of the blue, without prior health problems, my father-in-law had to undergo an emergency triple heart bypass. That was when my husband learned that his grandmother and his uncle both died of heart attack.

Knowing our genealogy is important. But the family tree should also include data on health and medical. In other words, a family tree should also be a family health tree.

Last Thanksgiving, the US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin urged Americans to take the opportunity of family get-togethers to share the family health history with each family member

“While family health histories may seem old-fashioned, the truth is, the family health history is key to understanding your family’s unique genetic make-up and your individual disease risks.

Knowing your family health history can help you actually prevent disease, or detect diseases, such as many forms of cancer, for early treatment. The information your family health history contains can help you and your doctor determine your personal risk.  This means two things:  you can tailor your lifestyle to reduce your health risks; and you can be more carefully screened for diseases where your risk is high.

To make documentation of health history easier, the Surgeon General’s office has developed an online tool called My Family Health Portrait. The tool can help you record your health history electronically, making it easier to pass on the information to subsequent generations.

The Surgeon General believes that the older generations are an invaluable source of information when constructing a family health tree.

Says Dr. Benjamin:

“Older adults are more likely to know about the health conditions of previous generations. I like to think of the family health history as an heirloom that can help current and future generations live longer, healthier lives.”

Well, Christmas is another opportunity to start your family health tree or perhaps bring to completion what has been already started. The MD Anderson Cancer Center calls in creating a “health ances-tree”.

But why is a family health tree important?

Well, taking my family as example, my husband and I learned about some of our family’s health history when the same health problems occurred a generation later. His family history and my family history are now merged to become our children’s history. From what we have learned, we know what are the diseases our kids our genetically predisposed to. We cannot change our genes but we can change our lifestyle. By changing our lifestyle, we can reduce our risks and those of our children.

This holiday season, make a family health history your holiday project.

Coming next: how to build a family medical history.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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