Why Learning About Your Family Medical History Can Help Save Your Life

Family Medical History

Family Medical History

You may have inherited your grandmother’s talent for baking, but are you also at greater risk for breast cancer? You have your father’s “bad knees” and your mother’s freckled complexion, but are you destined to have his hypertension and her high blood pressure? Family traits are unique and genetics are amazing as they pass on (or skip) from one generation to the next. While many families spend time talking about who inherited Grandpa Joe’s crooked big toe or Aunt Sally’s knack for solving riddles, most families rarely share or even think about their family’s medical history. Knowing as much as you can about your family’s medical history can prevent you from receiving a delayed diagnosis or even an early death due to an otherwise treatable medical condition. If you know very little about your family and even less about their medical history, it’s time to do your research and uncover some medical mysteries.

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Do You Know Your Family’s Medical Past?

Some families have secrets and others are full of stories and legends. You probably know about your grandparent’s involvement in the Prohibition or your uncle’s tour of duty in the war, but you may know nothing about their health. When you go to the doctor, you are often asked to fill out a form or answer questions about your family’s medical history from mental health issues to other health issues such as heart disease or cancer. If you’ve been able to confidently answer each question, you probably know a lot about your family’s past, but many patients have no idea who had high blood pressure, diabetes, or even cancer.

Why are so many people in the dark about their family’s medical past? First of all, depending on your family, many families simply fail to share information about health. For instance, maybe your Aunt Millie suffers from AFib, but hasn’t bothered to mention anything because she assumes that no one else in the family has it. After being hospitalized with it, she finds out that two of her brothers have AFib as well. Upon further investigation, they find out their father had it, too.

Another reason that many people don’t know about family health history is because decades ago, certain medical conditions may have gone undiagnosed or untreated. For instance, if your grandmother died at 90 year old, many people would assume that she passed away due to “natural causes” or “old age”, but in reality, she may have suffered from years of undiagnosed and untreated high blood pressure.

Start a Conversation

By taking charge and learning about your family’s medical history, not only are you making your own life healthier, but you can keep younger generations healthy, too. So, how do you start a conversation about health? Everyone likes to talk about their everyday aches and pains, but some people don’t want to divulge too much information about their colon or breast cancer prognosis. While no medical condition should come with a stigma, many people may feel embarrassed by their health issues.

If your family doesn’t get together often, write an e-mail or letter, asking questions about family health. Explain the importance of knowing such information and encourage them to share. If your family does get together often, have the conversation face-to-face and encourage your aunt, uncle, or grandparent to participate in your Family Health Portrait, a tool that can be passed around to other family members and shared with medical professionals.