November 23, 2015

Celebrate Thanksgiving by Discussing Your Family’s Health History

By Jeff Briggs

ThanksgivingKnowing your family history is important for your future health. This Thanksgiving, the nation’s annual Family Health History Day, start a new tradition. Have a conversation about your family’s health history. What you learn might surprise you—and it may save a life.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with family, share memories and make new ones. It’s a time for favorite foods and laughter and love. And it should be a time to start sharing and recording some of your family health history.

Knowing your family’s history is critical to understanding what health issues run in the family, from asthma and allergies to diabetes and cancer. When you visit the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine or have a checkup with your doctor, you’ll be asked to fill in your family health history. How accurate have you been? How good is your memory? What, really, did Aunt Mildred die of?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 96 percent of Americans believe that family history is important. But less than 30 percent have tried to gather family history information. As Mayo Clinic certified genetic counselors Teresa Kruisselbrink, M.S., CGC, and Geoffrey Beek, M.S., CGC, are fond of saying, “Family history is the first genetic test.”

In observance of Family History Day, Mayo Clinic and the Center for Individualized Medicine encourage you to discuss health history with your family. Here Kruisselbrink and Katie Burbank, R.N., have a conversation about family health history.

Family History-YouTube

Family History Day
In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., declared Thanksgiving Family History Day, encouraging everyone to talk about and write down their family’s health history. This helps doctors predict what illnesses might affect a family from one generation to the next.

Just as you may have inherited your mother’s hair or your father’s nose, an increased risk for certain conditions can be passed down from a parent to a child, as well, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke
  • Some cancers

Family History 1-WPOur health is influenced by a combination of factors, including our genetics, environment, and family history. Some risks are controllable, others not. We can try to alter life style habits to influence our health. But we can’t change our family’s health history. Having close relatives affected by high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic health problems increases our risks for those diseases.

By knowing which diseases and conditions your parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents had, you find out what you have a greater likelihood of inheriting and what you can do to prevent developing the same condition. Even though the genes you inherited cannot be changed, you can make lifestyle changes to help prevent developing the diseases that run in your family.

There are certain key features that may indicate a higher risk due to a genetic condition. . These risks include:

  • Certain combinations of diseases within a family
  • Diseases that occur at an earlier than expected age
  • Disease in more than one close relative
  • Disease that does not typically affect a specific gender (for example, breast cancer in a male)

Knowing your health history can help your healthcare provider determine if genetic testing is warranted or if increased screening is necessary.

How Do You Get Your Family’s Health History?
Ask questions about your close relatives’ health, such as what major medical conditions they had and what age they started, cause and age of death, birth defects, childhood health problems Also ask about your family’s ethnicity, as some conditions can have a tendency to be more common in certain ethnic groups. Kruisselbrink and Beek recommend “My Family Health Portrait, a Tool from the Surgeon General.” Here is a link:

Suregeon General Tool

Who Should You Include when Gathering Your Family Health History?
The health of your closest relatives, related to you by blood, influences your health the most. Therefore, include your:

  • Parents
  • Children
  • Grandparents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Aunts and uncles

What Do You Do With the Information?

  • Share it with your primary care provider who will make health care recommendations
  • Share this information with your relatives
  • Keep it in a safe place for future reference
  • Update the information every year at Thanksgiving

More Information
Here are some websites that will offer additional information and help you understand the importance and value of knowing one's family health history.

Share this information with your loved ones. Knowing your risks today can lead to a healthier tomorrow.

From all of us at the Center for Individualized Medicine to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving! Share some turkey and some pumpkin pie—and your family health history. It may just save someone’s life.

Tags: center for individualized medicine, Family History, Genetic Testing, National Family Health History Day, National Institutes of Health, Nationaly Family History Day, NIH, Thankgiviing, Uncategorized

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