Dish up your family health history
Thursday is Thanksgiving Day.
Did you know it’s also National Family Health History Day?
“Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about their family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together.”
As a nurse, I have taken hundreds of patient histories and I am always surprised by how little most people know about the health of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. “Well, he died of something, but I don’t know what it was.” or “I think maybe she had colon cancer, or stomach cancer, or…I don’t know.”
It’s so helpful if you can provide your physician with a comprehensive family health history.
Does your family have a genetic predisposition for a disease?
Many common conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and osteoporosis (among others) have a genetic link. By looking at your family tree you can see patterns in the types of diseases, the ages of onset of disease, and the ages/causes of death among your family members.
That knowledge helps your doctor personalize your health care. Together you can develop a care plan that includes both lifestyle changes and appropriate screenings tests.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a handy online tool, My Family Health Portrait, to help you put together a family health history tree.
Start with your siblings and parents, then add grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. If you can, go further back a generation or two.
Share the information with other family members, who might have information of their own to share, and then pass your family health history on to your children.
We make the most effective decisions about our health care when we have as much information as possible.
Don’t waste money on home genetic tests
Don’t rely on home genetic tests like Ancestry.com or 23andMe. While they may provide fascinating insights into your ancestral history, they really aren’t helpful for guiding health decisions.
In fact, recent studies indicate direct-to-consumer genetic testing is rife with false results and can do more harm than good.
Related post: Is home genetic testing a good idea?
Professional genetic testing and counseling is available for some diseases, like breast cancer, but it’s not affordable for many. Your family health history is free!
Sláinte and Happy Thanksgiving,
Here are some books and journals for recording your family health history.
This post has been updated since its original publication in 2018.