She looks just like you! A favorite part of parenthood is discovering what your baby looks like. What features did she get from you? What personality traits did she get from your partner? Who does she take after? It is all very fun. You pass on more than appearances and disposition, though. Family medical history is one of the most helpful tools in evaluating risk for potential diseases. Knowing your history can be instrumental in early detection and even prevention.

Hereditary Diseases

A person’s genetic makeup can predict a lot about potential health problems. Genes carry health risks through mutations that are passed from one or both parents. These hereditary mutations can point to higher chances of getting diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. Most of these illnesses “run in families” and show up in each generation. The same goes for certain mental illness, including depression and dementia, and in certain types of cancers. 

Colon cancer and breast cancer are two examples of hereditary cancers that have early markers and where early detection is not only vital, but it is also very possible. Identifying the potential of these illnesses helps your doctor determine a course of action—early or more frequent screenings, lifestyle adjustments, medications, etc. It is important to note that just because you have a family history of an illnesses, you are not guaranteed to get it; nor are you immune to a disease if you don’t have a family history. Knowing your family medical history is simply one more way to assess your health and prospective risk of illness.

Gathering History

As important as family medical history is, only one-third of Americans have actually gathered their history. With the holidays coming up, you will likely be around extended family members, so this is a good time to talk about your family history or gather documents that may help you uncover it. You will all probably learn some important information. When recording medical history, there are certain aspects you will want to be sure to include. Try to include first- (parents, siblings, children), second- (grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandchildren), and third-degree (first cousins) relatives. 

For each person, write down sex, birthdate, ethnicity, and age/cause of death (if applicable). Next, you will want to gather as much medical information as possible for each person—medical and mental health conditions, substance abuse issues, age of diagnosis, pregnancy complications, and lifestyle habits. Note conditions that occurred earlier than usual or in more than one relative. To help you record your family medical history, there is an online tool called “My Family Health Portrait” created by the Surgeon General.

Depending on your family dynamic, you may encounter some reluctance in your pursuit of family medical history. Try to be clear about your purpose in gathering the information. Some may feel more comfortable face-to-face as opposed to email or text and vice versa. Be sure to be sensitive in how you ask questions, especially about certain topics like mental illness and death. Don’t pass judgment or remark on people’s answers; listen carefully and keep a neutral attitude. No matter your approach, some people may still be unwilling to share certain information. Respect their privacy and don’t press the matter. It is more important to maintain a good relationship than to have a perfectly accurate medical history. 

Once you have compiled your family history, you can give it to your doctor to evaluate and discuss any necessary precautions or recommendations based on risks you may have. GI Associates is available to meet with you about your family medical history. Request an appointment today at one of our three convenient locations.

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