Is there a history of cancer or high blood pressure in your family? If so, you might be at risk. Do you know about any serious health conditions that your parents or grandparents have had? The more you know, the more you can become empowered to proactively take charge of your own health. Your physician wants to know the answers to these questions about your family to personalize your own care.
Why it is important
Jessica Jackson, M.S., a genetic counselor at Mayo Clinic, explains how your physician can use your family history to individualize your care.
“Your family history can help determine if you need screening tests or monitoring for a particular condition,” says Jackson. “For example, if you one or more of your family members has had heart disease, your physician may want to monitor your cholesterol and heart function more frequently and ensure that you make necessary changes in your lifestyle or diet to prevent the condition.”
Family medical histories can also help diagnose rare diseases. “When I meet with a patient who has an undiagnosed condition, I review the complete family history in order to determine if genetic testing can help find answers for a mysterious illness.”
Whom should you ask?
Jackson explains that when working with patients, genetic counselors and physicians will ask for health information for three generations of an individual’s family. So to build your own family tree, get information about these family members:
What you need to know
Ask family members about these topics:
Have an impact on health – yours and your families
With information about your family’s medical history, your physician can determine what steps need to be taken to maintain your health, including screening tests or lifestyle changes that could help prevent any diseases that you may be more susceptible to developing.
At the same time, remember to share information about your own health conditions with your family – the results could be lifesaving.
This was true for Karen Daggett, who was rushed to a hospital after a procedure for an irregular heartbeat led to life threatening complications. Genetic testing revealed that she had a genetic variant that interfered with her ability to process certain medications. She shared this information with her family, and 19 family members also tested positive for the same variant – many who had experienced problems processing medications. Learn more about Karen’s story here.
Learn more about precision medicine
You’ll want to save the date for next year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference. It is planned for Oct. 9-11, 2017.