Your risk for many diseases and health conditions is influenced by your family medical history. But how much do you really know about your parents, grandparents, and plethora of aunts and uncles?
Making a family health history (or what some call family health tree) will help not just you but your children. You are gathering vital information that can help you take charge of your health, and arm your doctor decide what screening tests you need, and how frequently. Here are some tips on how you can make a family health history.
Ask both your parents
You can get cancer genes from both your parents. So even when you’re researching on your risk for ovarian or breast cancer, ask Dad if it ran in his family. Since men don’t always know this—women are more likely to share ‘female woes’ with fellow women—gather data from his sisters, aunt, and his mother.
Ask about all conditions
Don’t just research on diseases that have a known genetic influence. Gather all data, including those that may seem irrelevant. Remember that diagnostic tools have advanced greatly in the last two decades: a grandmother’s sudden weight gain could have been caused by a thyroid problem, an uncle’s eccentric behavior may have been undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. You may feel a bit like a detective, but it’s well worth the effort (and gathering anecdotes and interviewing relatives may even yield enough interesting trivia to make a family scrapbook).
Tap the web
The Internet is full of resource you can use to organize the data and even interpret it. Try going to familyhistory.hhs.gov where you will find a link to ‘My Family Health Portrait.’ This cites several kidns of diseases and even helps you create a print out that you can present to your doctor.
Go to northshore.org/genetics/mygenerations to actually compute for your risk on certain kinds of cancer, based on your family history. You will also be able to get good, concrete advice on your next step (though this should not substitute for a visit to the doctor—just a way for you to be armed with information so you can ask good questions).
Photo from womenshealthnowonline.blogspot.com