Family health history is important to your health more than you might imagine. Many diseases and chronic conditions are linked to genetics and can be inherited. Family members might also share the same food preferences, exercise habits, and living environment. All of these factors can impact your health and fall under family health history.
By asking questions and knowing about your relatives’ health histories, you will better understand your own risk—especially if more than one family member has (or had) the disease. Some common diseases and chronic conditions that family history can influence are breast or ovarian cancer, colorectal (colon) cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Knowing your family’s health history is not enough; you need to act on it. Providing this information to your physician or medical provider can help determine which screenings or tests should be done and when. If you are concerned about diseases that are common in your family, make sure to bring that up with your doctor. Early detection is often the key to better outcomes. It’s also important that you share what you learn with other family members, so they can better care for their health as well.
And, while you can’t change your genes, you can change your lifestyle. If there is a history of disease in your family, there are usually actions to take to reduce the risk of getting it. For example, if a close relative developed colon cancer, it may be important to start colonoscopies earlier and have them more regularly. In fact, those with a family health history of disease have the most to gain from lifestyle changes and screening tests.
The conversations aren’t always easy to start but they are valuable to have. It can be helpful to let loved ones know upfront why you are asking these questions. Here are some questions to ask:
For relatives that have died, try to find out about the cause and age of death if you do not already know.
The next time your family is gathered around with chestnuts on an open fire or reminiscing about auld lang syne, take time to talk about family health history. It can even be part of your New Year’s resolution preparations for a healthier you!