We have all filled out the check-in paperwork enough times to have seen this question: Do you have a family medical history of…? In the long list of illnesses and conditions, how many times have you thought to yourself, “I don’t know”? Family medical history can provide important indicators of overall health and risk factors that can make a difference for your future. Get a medical history lesson, and don’t settle for not knowing.
Many diseases like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and cancer tend to be hereditary, meaning that they are passed down from one generation to the next and are more likely to occur in family members than in other people. Having the illness alone can indicate an increased risk, but this is especially true when certain characteristics are present. Diseases that are diagnosed at an earlier than normal age are important to note. Most cancers, for instance, are more likely to occur in older people, so if there is a family pattern of cancer ten to twenty years before most people get it, that is significant information. Conditions that have affected more than one family member or recurring combinations of conditions are also important to note. Another meaningful risk indicator is an illness that occurs in an atypical manner like a generally female disease (breast cancer) appearing in males within the family.
While family history does not ensure that you will inherit a particular disease or that you will be able to prevent it, you do have the most to gain from making adjustments that could help. Reducing unhealthy behaviors and taking care to get regular exams allow you to lessen unnecessary, additional risks and may increase the effectiveness of treatment or even prevention of hereditary illnesses. Take advantage of the holiday season to talk to your relatives and begin a record of medical history to benefit the family for years to come.
Family medical history is a form of risk assessment for a person’s future health. It is a way of capturing a piece of what’s to come and in some cases to curb potential harm. When you look at it that way, it’s hard to argue with its importance. Ninety-six percent of Americans agree and say that having an accurate record of family medical history is important, yet only thirty percent have actually compiled the information. For those who have, they are better able to identify patterns, whether it be in lifestyles, environment, or genetics. They are able to make adjustments to their lives by improving diet, becoming more active, quitting smoking, or seeking medical treatment. They can present the information to their doctor who will use it in various ways. He may encourage earlier or more frequent screenings or blood tests, or he may order additional genetic testing. Doctors may also recommend additional testing in children or during pregnancy if certain illnesses are present in family members. People with completed medical histories may have conditions diagnosed that might not otherwise be considered.
With all the benefits to knowing your family medical history, you’ll want to get started right away. “My Family Health Portrait” is an easy, online tool to help you keep the information organized and stored. You can edit and add to it easily as you learn more about your family. Carolina Digestive can also help with how to compile a family history and help you make sense of the information you gather. Come see us today!