Every time you visit the doctor, the physician has probably asked you a series of questions related to your family health history: “Has anyone in your family had cancer, high blood pressure, or heart disease?” “How old were your grandparents when they died?” “Was this on your mother or father’s side?”
You may gloss over these questions, answering them in the same way you’ve been taught to do for your whole life. What you may not realize is the value these answers hold. They give your healthcare provider important information about any tests to order and other steps to take to lower your risk.
Knowing your family’s health history is so important that, in 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General established National Family Health History Day. The day was purposefully created to fall on Thanksgiving when families gather to share stories and conversations. This year, the two holidays fall on November 25, and Brickmont Assisted Living is encouraging you to ask your family members about their health history so that you can live happy and healthy lives together.
Knowing Your Risk
Just like your parents’ genes can determine whether you’ll have blonde hair or dimples, they can also impact whether or not you will inherit a particular disease. On one extreme, some of these conditions are caused by a gene mutation. Whether the gene is dominant or recessive, can directly influence a child’s chance of inheriting that disease. However, these are the more severe hereditary diseases and conditions, including Cystic Fibrosis, Huntington’s, and Sickle Cell Anemia.
These diseases are rare cases. For the most part, though, understanding your family health history involves looking at disease and conditions that may “run in the family” and determine your own risk based on this. While there is no specific gene mutation for conditions like cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, or lung disease, having these in your family history can increase your own risk.
Here are some situations that can increase your risk:
- A first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) diagnosed with ovarian, breast, colon, or uterine cancer before the age of 50
- Multiple family members diagnosed with ovarian, breast, colon, or uterine cancer
- A first-degree relative diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes
- A first-degree relative diagnosed with another chronic condition like high blood pressure, heart disease, or lung disease
While family genes likely play some role in increasing your risk for a certain condition, there are indirect influences, as well. For example, family members typically share behaviors, lifestyles, and habits, and unhealthy lifestyle choices can also lead to an increased risk of chronic diseases.
Talking With Your Family
To know your risk for these conditions, it’s important to have as full of an understanding of your family health history as possible. So the next time you are with your family, ask them about their health history, including current and past conditions, surgeries or treatment, age of diagnosis, and ages and causes of death of those who have passed away. These questions should extend to any blood relative, including parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins, and half-siblings.
You can record this information using our helpful resource below:
Once you have collected your family health history, it’s important to share this information with your healthcare provider so they can determine if they need to order any screening tests. For example, if your family has a history of breast cancer, your doctor may suggest a mammogram before the typical recommended age of 40.
On the other hand, if you have conditions like diabetes or heart disease in your family, your physician may simply recommend certain lifestyle changes to help lower your risk. More and more studies show that certain habits, like being active, eating well, being social, and avoiding excess alcohol and tobacco, can significantly lower your risk of chronic conditions.
Creating a Healthy Future
Knowing your family health history is not only valuable in promoting your own health and wellness, but it also benefits your children, your children’s children, and every generation to come. So on this National Family Health History Day, we encourage you to learn about your family’s past to create a healthy future!
Brickmont Assisted Living is dedicated to educating and encouraging our residents about the importance of healthy living and healthy aging. Our senior living communities ensure our residents live where they are loved, cared for, and comfortable. To discover more about our care philosophy and our assisted living communities, visit our website.