Your family health history is important. To emphasize that, the Surgeon General, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched a national public health campaign called the Surgeon General's Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.
The date this year is November 22nd, which is also Thanksgiving Day. Over the holiday, or as your family gathers, the Surgeon General encourages conversations that help you understand your families’ health history.
Healthcare professionals have known for quite a while that common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis, along with rare diseases like cystic fibrosis, hemophilia and sickle cell anemia can run in families. If your mother or father had high blood pressure, it’s not unusual for you or your siblings to also have high blood pressure. Having a record of illnesses that your parents, grandparents, or any blood relative had can help your doctor predict the diseases that you could be at risk of getting, and help you take action to keep you and your family healthy. However, having a family history of any form of an illness or disease don’t mean that you will definitely get it.
Collecting your family health history is an important first step. Whether you know a lot, or very little, it’s important to take the time to talk about it, and family gatherings are a good place. Chances are, something may come up that grandma or grandpa had, of which you weren’t aware.
How to collect your family health history:
Talk to your family: Write down the names of all of your close relatives from each side of the family; parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Talk over conditions they had or have, and at what age they were first diagnosed.
Ask questions: To find out about a potential risk of chronic diseases, ask your relatives questions about which they’ve lived with and when they were diagnosed. Questions can include:
- Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
- Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke? What type of cancer?
- How old were you when each of these diseases or health conditions was diagnosed? (If your relative doesn’t remember the exact age, knowing the approximate age is still useful.)
- What is your family’s ancestry? From what countries, or regions did your ancestors come to the United States?
- What were the causes and ages of death for relatives who have died?
Record the information: No matter what method you choose, record keeping is a vital step in the process. The Surgeon General offers a free, web-based tool that you can use, or a simple notebook may be best for you. Keeping the records updated is also an important part of the process. Make sure that these records are available for your siblings, as well as your children. It’s also a good tool for your physician, when it comes to your own health.
Knowing your families’ health history can motivate you to take steps to lower your chance of getting a genetic disease. You can’t change your history, but you can change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits.
At LifeFone, we encourage you to take the time this Thanksgiving to ask about the health history that can impact you, and your future generations.