Family health history can provide vital information about future health risks
CHICAGO – The holidays are an ideal time to talk with family members about their health histories and can help uncover valuable, possibly life-saving information.Family health histories provide important insights about the risks for certain inherited conditions as well as conditions that can be familial, such as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. These histories can also offer important clues about adult onset disorders that generally do not present symptoms until a person is 30 years of age or older, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.The process of documenting family history begins with the creation of a family tree, also known as a pedigree, that identifies the links between family members and focuses on the medical and health history for each individual on the tree. By exploring their families’ histories, individuals can learn more about health conditions that may be present and may even be able to delay or minimize the negative impact of potential health problems. The National Society of Genetic Counselors suggests the following tips for tracking family medical health histories: • Vacations and holiday gatherings are wonderful opportunities for relatives to begin sharing this information. • Make a list of family members. Begin with parents, siblings, and children. Then, go back one generation at a time and repeat the process. • Write down as much information as possible about each relative including age and birthday. Also note the age and cause of death for any deceased relatives. If the exact age isn’t known, estimate it as closely as possible. • Remember to include each family member’s nationality. Genetic issues are often specific to different ethnic groups. • List any health conditions affecting family members. If possible, include information about the age of onset. For relatives with known medical problems, indicate if they smoke or are overweight, as well as their diet and exercise habits. Preparing a family health history organizes important data and provides healthcare professionals with valuable information, allowing them to identify health risk factors early on and provide better support to their patients. Knowing health risks empowers individuals to manage their own health issues as well as family members’ health challenges. To learn more about creating a medical family tree or to download a free family history tool, visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors Web site at http://www.nsgc.org.
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