Understanding Your Family Medical History

Your family medical history serves as an important record that can be used to benefit your overall health.

Family members share similarities in genetic make-up, which can result in the development of similar health issues. Patterns can be traced through your bloodline to determine your likelihood of developing specific conditions, such as high blood pressure. However, just because a particular disease has affected one of your relatives doesn’t necessarily mean you will inherit it.

Overall, knowing your family medical history is a good tool for establishing preventative care early on. This information can be used alongside your personal medical history to help health care providers tailor your preventative care routine to your health needs. The following information describes why you should know your family medical history, how you can find it and more.

The Importance of Your Family Medical History

Knowing your family medical history allows you to understand your health more completely. Because relatives share genes, certain medical conditions and diseases can be passed down to you. By learning what conditions are common in your bloodline, you can adjust your lifestyle to reduce your risk of developing any hereditary disease.

For example, women aware of their family history of breast cancer can begin screenings earlier than the usual recommended age in order to increase the chances of catching the disease at an early stage if it develops. People with a family history of high blood pressure can begin eating healthier and exercising to reduce risk for the condition. Changing your habits early on could prevent a condition or lower the severity of disease later in life.

In addition to sharing genetic makeup, families often live in the same environment and make similar lifestyle choices. Having comparable poor diet and exercise habits contributes to health issues common in the family. Examining your family health history reveals how genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle choices merge to create certain health disorders.

However, daily eating habits, environment and working conditions and extracurricular activities also influence health outcomes. Keeping your habits in mind while uncovering your genetic history is important to create a complete profile of your health. Additionally, inheriting a gene linked to a particular disease does not guarantee that you will develop the illness, as you can be simply be a carrier of the gene.

Another important reason to understand your family health history is to provide this information to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to test for conditions or build a prevention plan for you by analyzing your genetic predispositions.

How to Discover Your Family Medical History

Learning about your family medical history may involve using a variety of methods. Discussing medical records with your family is a good way to find out information about your health history. By talking to your relatives, you can uncover detailed information that is unavailable elsewhere. Family gatherings and events such as weddings and birthday parties are typically where you have opportune moments to ask different members of your family about their history. You may also be able to acquire a great deal of data, especially from relatives you do not see often.

For some people, the access and ability to consult with family does not exist. Older relatives may have passed away, live in a foreign country or do not feel comfortable sharing their personal health information. In these situations, other options are available to find out the desired information. One way to learn about your genetic medical history is using medical records and death certificates. These documents could contain details about ailments that affected your relatives. However, this method may require significant research and planning as most of these documents are not easily accessible, even if you are a family member.

Information to Acquire From Your Family Medical History

To create a comprehensive genetic record, at least three generations must be included. A family history is comprised of relatives such as siblings, aunts, uncles, parents and cousins. Children, nieces, nephews and grandparents can also be listed.

If possible, certain information should be collected about your relatives, including their personal and health information. Take note of their name, relation within the family, current age or age at death. Ethnicity and race should also be included to compare with national data. Different cultures and places of origin are linked with increased risks and certain medical conditions. Date and place of birth can also play a role in a person’s health.

Medical information including relevant health issues, diseases and conditions should be obtained. The age at the time of disease diagnosis is an important piece of information that could affect your personal healthcare, as onsets of disease like Alzheimer’s often occur around the same age for parent and child. If possible, determining what age the symptoms first appeared is also beneficial. Gather as much information as you can about these health issues that may affect your health.

Mental health is also an important aspect of your family medical history. Find out any information about suspected or documented mental health issues within your family. Certain behaviors of relatives that may indicate mental health conditions should also be recorded, as mental health conditions like Schizophrenia are hereditary.

Common Medical Conditions Linked to Genetics

Examples of common medical conditions that can be detected by genetics are heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. Coronary artery disease and high blood pressure are also common within families, but can be managed with the proper health care routine. Personal health decisions, diet and lifestyle choices can also affect the development of these diseases by accelerating or preventing the onset of the disease all together.

Additionally, arthritis, asthma and speech disorders have been liked with genetics, so be mindful of any family members that may have these ailments. Some neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and multiple sclerosis are also passed down through family lines. Keep in mind that various patterns of gene inheritance can cause specific diseases to skip generations, so you may want to start preventative care for your children even if you do not develop any hereditary disease.

A variety of mental illnesses and behavioral issues are also commonly passed down through generations. These include:

  • Alcoholism.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Depression.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Anxiety disorders.

Keep in mind that many mental health conditions go undiagnosed, so it is a good idea to undergo preventative care even if you only suspect that a family member was afflicted by mental illness.

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