The Importance of Your Family Medical History

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importance of family medical history

You inherit half of your genetic makeup from each of your parents. Those genes not only affect your physical appearance, but they may also play a role in determining how likely you are to develop certain medical conditions. Consequently, your family medical history sometimes referred to as your medical family tree, can provide helpful information to you and your doctor as you assess your disease risk.

The Complete Family Medical History Checklist

One of the great things about this powerful “tool” is that it costs nothing more than a little time and effort to produce it. Plus, the conversations you have with family members as you create your family medical history can be very eye-opening and may even bring you closer together as people share the details of their medical challenges.

How Your Doctor Can Leverage Your Family Medical History

There are many ways that your doctor can use your medical family tree, including to:

  • More accurately assess your risk of certain diseases
  • Decide if, and how often, you should undergo certain diagnostic tests
  • Determine if specific lifestyle changes would be beneficial
  • Recommend treatments or procedures to reduce your risk of disease
  • Assist in the diagnosis of active medical conditions
  • Help you understand the health risks you may pass on to your children
  • Provide insight on the health risks other family members may be facing
  • Determine if genetic testing is recommended for you or other family members

How to Record Your Family Medical History

In its simplest form, your family medical history can consist of handwritten notes. However, there are also a number of digital tools you can use including a computer program developed by the U.S. Surgeon General called My Family Health Portrait. Whatever approach you choose, it is important to take appropriate precautions to safeguard the information you have recorded.

When talking with loved ones about their medical history, you should record their:

  • Ethnicity
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Past and current medical conditions
  • Past and current mental health conditions
  • Lifestyle factors like their use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances, their diet, whether they exercise regularly, etc.

The same information should be noted for deceased relatives, as much as is known, as well as their age when they died and the cause of death. With both living and deceased relatives, it is important to record the age at which a disease was diagnosed, since a medical condition that develops earlier than expected is more likely to have a genetic basis.

Crafting Your Family Medical Tree Around the Holidays

A person’s medical history is very personal, and some people will not want to talk about it. Others, however, are happy to share their story in the hope that it may give loved ones an advantage in dealing with their own medical challenges.

If the conversation is approached the right way and with the appropriate degree of discretion, the holidays can be an excellent time to initiate discussions with loved ones that you may not see at other times of the year.

Once you have developed your family medical history, you and your doctor can review it to look for any patterns and determine what, if any, “next steps” are recommended.

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