Have you seen the blog Awkward Family Photos? Some of them are hysterical! While you might not ever think you'll look like some of the people in these awkward family photos, you just might when the time comes to have an important conversation about your health with your family members. 

Many serious illnesses tend to run in families, and most specialists (including the doctors of GI Associates), stress the importance of the patient knowing their family history. Do you know yours? We are entering the holiday season and that means opportunities for conversations at family gatherings about family health history.

Finding multiple family members with certain cancers does not necessarily mean that it is an inherited trait. For example, if cousins who both smoke each develop lung cancer, it is the smoking, not genetics, that binds them together. But finding out about other cancers that might be rare, appear at an age younger than normal, or occur in many generations, might give your doctor a clue that could save your life.

What Information Should I Gather?

Each person should gather information about their parents, grandparents, blood related aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, siblings, and their own children. It is not necessary to collect information on more distant relatives unless there is a discovery of multiple generations with the same condition. If no one can remember a specific cause of death for a relative, try finding their death certificate to fill in any gaps in your information.

It's important to ask about any of the following major medical conditions and the age of onset:

  • Cancer, type specific
  • Clotting Disorders
  • Dementia or Alzheimer's
  • Diabetes - Type 1 or 2
  • GI Disorders
  • Heart Disease
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Kidney Disease
  • Lung Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Psychological Disorders
  • Septicemia
  • Stroke
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Other important information to know:

  • Cause and age of death
  • Ethnic background, specifically Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. Ashkenazi Jews have a higher risk for certain conditions, such as breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Be sure to categorize your family members into “sides.” For example, mother’s side of the family and father’s side of the family. 
  • Be as specific as possible.
  • If a relative has multiple types of cancers, list them separately.

The Surgeon General offers an online tool for taking a Family Health Portrait. This is merely a digital tool to track this information. A simple pad of paper and a pencil is all you will need to track this information. Gathering this information will be important for your health care plan and will be a gift to the next generation.

It may be time to update your GI Associates doctor with new family history information. Make an appointment with us today!

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