If you were told to list everything you knew about your family, chances are you would have a lot to say. But could you list your family’s medical history?
If you can’t — don’t worry — there’s never a better time to start learning than now.
In a world full of roughly 6,000 genetic diseases, there’s a lot to keep track of. Here are some words of advice on how to navigate your genetic past by taking advantage of your family history.
Because the most accessible way to get a glimpse of your family history lies in your family members, an easy first step is to talk to your relatives. Don’t be afraid to speak up and inquire about past and present illnesses with your relatives — use it as an opportunity to better understand your family members and any illnesses that are present in your family.
To get the most out of your family history, your medical ancestry should span at least three generations, including siblings, parents, grandparents, and extended family. The more you know the better.
It’s also important to note that gender and ethnicity each come with their own predisposed risks, so make note of them alongside any other preexisting medical conditions in your family. If someone in your family died from a specific disease, make note of that as well.
Now what to do with the information? Consolidate a list of your family history and bring it with you for your next doctor’s visit. Keeping your primary care doctor in the loop will help them assess your risk for specific diseases, suggest lifestyle changes, and prescribe screening tests to detect the early onset of diseases.
Another beneficial way to use your family history is by filling out Roswell Park’s online personal assessment. This screening tool will look at your family history, personal habits and other risk factors to help you determine which screenings you are eligible for and which behaviors may be putting you at an increased risk for cancer, and possibly even other diseases.
But reducing risk doesn’t end here. If you are at risk for a specific condition, seek the recommended testing from healthcare professionals to monitor any potential complications.
And, keep in mind that an adequate family history cannot predict the future of your health. While it may offer a clear view into the medical history of your family, other factors, such as exercise, diet, and weight exert large influences in your risk of developing certain diseases. Remember to eat a balanced diet, stay active, avoid tobacco and continue seeking medical advice when needed.
If you are interested in learning more about your family history, the National Human Genome Research Institute has produced a website designed specifically for establishing a family history. You can find it here.