November 16, 2020
The last time you visited the doctor’s office, you were likely asked you if you have a “family history” of certain conditions. Doctors ask this question so they can customize your care.
A number of diseases — heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, and more — can be influenced by your family tree due to genetics, environment, or other hereditary factors. If you know whether there is a history of diseases in your family, it can help your doctor treat you more effectively, and even proactively. Here are five important reasons to build a family health history:
The pattern of illness and medical conditions in your family health history can help you and your doctor identify certain risk factors. Knowledge of what your family has experienced in the past can empower you to be on the lookout for warning signs to pay attention to in the future.
If you and your doctor are aware of specific health risks, you can begin to engage in preventive care. This could be as simple as diet, exercise, and weight management for those with a family history of diabetes, taking aspirin for a history of heart problems, or even just watching your time in the sun if your family has a history of skin cancer. These small steps can make a big difference in the long run.
Many rare diseases can share symptoms with more common ailments. A family health history can help your doctor screen for specific conditions that may affect you and recommend a better course of treatment, faster. Even if you’re not currently experiencing any symptoms, a doctor may recommend more frequent screenings for certain cancers — such as breast cancer for women or prostate cancer for men — if they appear in your family health history.
If you are at risk of developing certain diseases, the other people in your family may be, too. The history you compile can be shared with their doctors to help determine what special screenings or preventive care makes sense for them.
There are certain family health conditions that can be passed on to your children. It’s important to know what they are so doctors can screen for them during pregnancy and monitor young children for any warning signs. This is especially important with early-onset diseases which may share symptoms with more common illnesses — a family history could be what identifies a problem early.
Ready to get started? Plan to collect information back three to four generations and look for key facts around birth and death, ethnic background, and major health conditions (and when they began and ended). After you put this together, make sure to share it with any siblings or children — they’ll want the information, too!
Family health history isn’t a one-time activity. Once you have it in place, use family gatherings — such as the holidays — as an excuse to update it each year, and share the results with your doctor.