We are right at the beginning of the holiday season, a time where families around the world embrace and enjoy the traditions passed down from generation to generation. This year, we want to suggest adding an element to family gatherings, one that won’t take much time but that will provide great, potentially life-saving information for your current family members and the ones to come. The holiday season is literally the perfect time to gather and update your family medical history.
What’s So Important About My Family History?
Ask yourself this question: How well do I know my family’s medical history? If the answer has any ambiguity to it, it’s time to do some research. Hereditary medical conditions are common in most families. Specialists treating those conditions stress the importance of the patient knowing their family history. Sitting down with your relatives may provide important information that could affect your medical care and ultimately may save your life.
For example, finding multiple family members with a particular cancer does not necessarily mean that it is an inherited condition you are likely to have. It should, however, provide an opportunity to discuss your findings with your doctor so that they can observe potential changes or issues before they get too serious. As we know with cancer and other diseases and conditions, early detection is the key to winning the battle. Cancer is a common disease, so it is not unusual to find more than one case in a family history. This alone might not cause much concern, but rare types of cancers, multiple types of cancer in the same person, cancers that appear at a younger than normal age, or cancer occurring in many generations are more concerning and should be documented.
What Type of Information Should I Gather?
Where do we start? We find this is a common question when discussing a patient’s pursuit of tracking down their family’s medical history. It is really much more simple, though, than people think! It is not necessary to research your entire genealogy. In fact, you can limit your inquiries to these family members:
- Blood-related aunts and uncles
- Nieces and nephews
- Your own children.
There are several types of conditions and diseases that should be tracked. When you are looking for any major medical conditions, the age of onset of those conditions is of particular importance. Most people automatically think of cancer, but one shouldn’t stop there. Conditions that can be important to monitor including: clotting disorders, dementia or Alzheimer's, Diabetes - Type 1 or 2, GI disorders, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Other conditions that you should inquire about include kidney disease, lung disease, osteoporosis, psychological disorders, and strokes.
As you are filling out a document or taking notes, try to be as specific as possible. You will want to include these things when documenting a particular person’s history and medical conditions:
- Cause and age at death.
- Ethnic background
- Side of the Family: Categorize your family members into “sides,” for example mother’s side of the family and father’s side of the family.
As you are asking questions and are having a hard time remembering a specific cause of death for a relative, try finding their death certificate to fill in any gaps in your information.
Is There a Tool That Can Help?
Yes! A fantastic online tool is called My Family Health Portrait and is offered by the Surgeon General. Don’t worry - the government does not have access to your information on the site, they are merely giving you a place to gather and keep track of it. While it might be convenient, it is not necessary to use this tool. A simple pad of paper and a pencil is all the technology required. Gathering this information will be an important step in your health care plan and will be a gift to the next generation. Once you have your family history documented, bring the document with you to your next appointment at The Woman’s Clinic. Your doctor can look over the information and see if there is any cause for concern.
Are you ready to discuss your family medical history with your doctor? Is it time for your yearly exam? Is there another condition you are dealing with that you want to get checked out? You can set up an appointment here if you are a new patient or in your patient portal if you are an existing patient. We look forward to seeing you and continuing to help you live your most healthy life possible!