The importance of knowing your own family medical history
When visiting a physician for the first time, patients may notice an extensive section on family history on one of the requisite forms they fill out before meeting the doctor. Though it can be hard to remember family members’ conditions, doctors have good reason to ask about their patients’ family’s medical histories.
Family medical histories can be vital to one’s own health care. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that family history might be one of the strongest influences on a person’s risk for developing cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and more. While you cannot modify your genetic makeup, knowing your family’s medical history can help you take the steps necessary to protect yourself.
Family history reports can serve as warning signs for illnesses. These clues can help doctors prescribe certain screening tests at earlier ages to catch potential diseases when they are most treatable. For example, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says that healthcare professionals may recommend more frequent screenings (such as mammography or colonoscopy) and screening at an earlier age for people at an increased risk of certain cancers. Doctors may recommend biannual checkups to stay apprised of any changes in health that may signal a risk.
A thorough health care professional will record your family medical history and ask you to update it routinely in an effort to ensure you get the best, most effective care possible. You can help the process by having the information needed at the ready. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following.
• Talk to family. Make a list of close family members and discuss any conditions or issues they might have had and at what ages.
• Learn about chronic diseases. Speak to your relatives about chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure, being sure to ask how severe such issues were and if any required hospitalization.
• Plot your ancestry. Learn about your ancestry and if any medical issues are more common among people who share that ancestry.
• Record everything you learn. Keep the information where it can be easily accessed and updated. For example, My Family Health Portrait is a free web-based tool to organize family health information and share it with doctors.
Family history plays a key role in how doctors will approach patients’ treatment and preventive care.