By: Klive Forde, MD, Tallahassee Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program
For so many of us, the holidays are simply the best time of the year! It’s the season we carve out space in our busy schedules to spend time focusing on the things that matter most. We sit down around beautifully decorated tables laden with steaming dishes of our favorite foods and chat with relatives we haven’t seen all year. As we reflect on the year and begin setting resolutions, we should consider discussing a topic that has a direct effect on us all-family health.
Family health history is a topic most of us might not know much about, or avoid all together. Since 2004, Thanksgiving has been declared “National Family History Day.” On this day, when families all over the nation gather to spend time together, folks are encouraged to have conversations pertaining to family health history.
Many life-threatening diseases are, in fact, hereditary. There are conditions like diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other rare genetic and chromosomal problems that can be passed down through generations. Even though most Americans would agree it is important to know their family health history, a little over 33% of us go out of our way to actually gather information and write it down. If your family history is known, with the help of your primary care physician, you can predict your risk of acquiring medical conditions that may run in your family. Once these risks have been detected, you can develop a comprehensive plan to prevent or delay any future medical emergencies.
If your physician knows that you have relatives who were diagnosed with breast or colon cancer at an early age then various screening tests can be ordered. These tests can help detect the issue early on, or can help prevent you from being diagnosed with the condition all together.
When sitting down with family members, here are some questions that may help you get the conversation started:
- Do you have any medical problems that you know of?
- Have you ever been hospitalized? What for?
- Have you ever had any surgical procedures?
- Do you take any medications on a regular basis?
If your family member has passed away or is unaware of their health history, this task could be more difficult. If you find yourself in this situation, you may discover medial records, pharmacy records or even death certificates to be useful in piecing together your family’s health history. If someone in your family is adopted, online genealogy resources like Ancestry.com may be useful in determining their history. Once again, your primary care physician can help you in interpreting all of this information-even if it might seem confusing to you.
As we all look forward to a joyous holiday season, and as we reunite with loved ones, take the time to find out what conditions may be lurking in the past. If you are unable to have this conversation with your family in person, take advantage of the My Family Health Portrait Web Tool at https://familyhistory.hhs.gov. It is important to make the effort, because if we don’t pay attention, our family health history could become our future.
Visit TMH.ORG/FamilyHistory to download the health history form to discuss with your family this holiday season.