Learn Your Family’s Health History This Thanksgiving
A simple conversation this Thanksgiving could help you and other members of your family live healthier lives.
As you gather together with relatives, take time to also gather your family’s medical history. By asking your relatives a few simple questions, you can discover if diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain cancers such as breast or prostate run in your family.
Armed with this knowledge, your family’s medical history enables you to take action to lower your risk by sharing this information with your health provider.
“When we know a patient’s family health history, we can get more targeted with their screenings and take some test results more seriously,” said Dr. I. Phillip Snider, DO, MS, RD, who serves as medical director at Bon Secours Weight Loss Institute. “We can look for early warning signs of disease.”
It’s been 13 years since the U.S. Surgeon General’s office started encouraging Americans to use Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings to keep track of health problems that appear to run in their families. While many Americans believe knowing their family history is important, only one-third attempt to collect the information and write it down. The Surgeon General’s website offers a free online tool, My Family Health Portrait, to help people collect and privately share their family history.
Although your family history and genetics can’t be changed, the knowledge that you face a higher risk for certain conditions or medical issues can make all the difference, said Dr. Snider.
A good example is heart disease – the leading cause of death for women. A person will have twice the risk of developing heart disease if their parents or siblings have been diagnosed with it, according to the Surgeon General’s office.
If someone knows they have a family history of heart disease or stroke, their physician may prescribe aspirin or consider medications to control blood pressure and cholesterol.
People may also influence their risk for certain diseases by making changes to their diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and having a healthy mindset, which can drive physiological responses. People can improve their health by eliminating stress, managing anger and learning to relax through breathing exercises and meditation.
“Genetics is only 50 to 60 percent of your health,” Dr. Snider said. “It’s really important that people realize that just because their family members have had certain ailments to deal with, it doesn’t mean they have to.”
To create a family health history, you’ll need to know when your relatives were born and at what age they were diagnosed with any diseases. It’s also helpful to know if they take any medications and whether any prescriptions have caused side effects.
Talking about your medical history isn’t easy for some, but many family members will share their information once they understand it can help keep everyone in their best health.
Sources: U.S. Surgeon General, National Institutes of Health