Knowing your family medical history can help save your life

You may have more in common with your family than you believe.  Eye color, hair color and annoying habits are the obvious commonalities, but risk of cancer or other diseases can also be linked to your family – or genetic – history.  Reach out to your relatives about health conditions and histories.  These discussions could very well save your life.

When it comes to asking for family histories, don’t just limit yourself to your parents.  Also ask your siblings, aunts and uncles about their health conditions.  Some people believe that they have more in common with their family members of the same sex – which is absolutely incorrect. Genetic make-up doesn’t play favorites based on gender.  Furthermore, make efforts to speak with relatives on both sides of your family.  Don’t forget to explore race and country of origin of your ancestors, as some diseases have an ethnic component.

Be sure to ascertain, as accurately as possible, at what age your family members’ health conditions began.  This important fact can allude to which conditions may be hereditary.  For example, a diagnosis before the age of 50 is more likely to be hereditary than a diagnosis later in life.

We don’t completely understand how genetics factor into all diseases, but researchers have identified a few key relationships.  Breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes are just a few examples.  Knowledge of conditions that run in your family can help you understand and be educated about early screening and lifestyle modifications to help with earlier diagnosis and possibly prevention.

With all of that said, don’t be fearful of what may lie ahead for you, health-wise.  Knowing that a certain condition or disease runs in your family does not necessarily sentence you to the same diagnosis.  On the other hand, just because a specific disease does not run in your family, don’t assume immunity.  Even if you don’t think that your family history is relevant to a specific physician or reason for a doctor’s appointment, please share anything and everything you know with your physician.

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, make it a point when visiting with relatives to discuss past medical histories.  It may not be pleasant, especially when speaking about a deceased relative, but in the long run, it will help you, your siblings, your children and ultimately your physician understand what to be cognizant of throughout your lifetime.  If you are not sure where to start or what information to collect, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website to obtain collection tools.