December 29, 2016

Know the Facts: Learn Your Family Medical History to Improve Your Health

By Sharon Rosen

shutterstock_100856803-1024x683As you spend time with relatives over the holidays, take time to learn more about your family medical history – it could save your life.

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.

Jessica Jackson, M.S.

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:

  • Grandparents
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Aunts, uncles and first cousins
  • Children

What you need to know

Ask family members about these topics:

  • History of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and cancer (specify type of cancer)
  • History of inherited conditions such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia
  • Cause and age of death
  • Birth defects
  • Family’s ethnic background – some conditions, such as diabetes, can be prevalent in certain ethnic groups

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

For more information on precision medicine and Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, visit our blogFacebookLinkedIn or Twitter at @MayoClinicCIM.

You’ll want to save the date for next year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference. It is planned for Oct. 9-11, 2017.

Tags: #family medical history, #Genetic diseases, #Jessica Jackson, center for individualized medicine, mayo clinic, medical research, Precision Medicine, Uncategorized

Contact Us · Privacy Policy