This Holiday Season, Talk About (Health) History

This holiday season, some of us will be able to spend time or share a meal with loved ones. After you’ve exhausted all the usual topics of conversation, consider asking about history – your family members’ health history. You may learn something that’s important for you to know.

Why would you want to know about diseases or conditions your family members may have had? Because many of them are genetic, meaning they run in biological families. If you have a family health history of a chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis, you are more likely to get that disease yourself. You may discover something that should be on your radar, or which you might want to discuss with your doctor.

Most people have a family health history of at least one chronic disease. This can include your parents, sisters, brothers, half-sisters, half-brothers, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Older loved ones are a valuable source of this info – they might be able to offer information about previous generations, as well. Here are some examples of discoveries you might make:

  • Has your mother or grandmother had breast cancer? Talk with your doctor about whether having a mammogram earlier is right for you.
  • Does your mom, dad, sister, or brother have diabetes? Ask your doctor how early you should be screened for diabetes.
  • Did your mom, dad, brother, or sister get colorectal (colon) cancer before age 50? Talk with your doctor about whether you should start getting colonoscopies earlier or have them done more often.

If possible, begin to dig deeper than the conversations you had. Look at death certificates and family medical records. If you can, find information on causes of death, age at disease diagnosis, age at death, and ethnic background. Be sure to update the information regularly and share what you’ve learned with your family and with your doctor. What you learn may alert you to a potential illness – or even prevent it from affecting you.

If you’d like some help, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free web-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait” to keep track of the information.

Categories: Aging Well