Author: Shauna Santare, Chicago Pharmacy Manager
This holiday season, instead of talking about the weather, politics or your relationship status, talk to your family about their medical history. Knowing your family health history can be very important to improve your overall health and wellness. Many common health conditions are genetic, which means they can be passed from generation to generation. When you gather around family this holiday season and throughout the year, take a moment to learn a little more about your family and their medical history.
Health History and Your Family Tree
Understanding your family tree is often the first step to learning more about your medical history. Start by learning more about the health of your first-degree relatives. First-degree relatives are your closest blood relatives including parents, children and siblings. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandchildren are considered second-degree relatives. Stepparents, aunts and uncles who marry into the family and anyone else who is not a blood relative is not included in your health history.
Your Unique Genetic Makeup: What Makes You, You
Your doctor may talk about a genetic predisposition, which simply means you have an increased chance of developing a certain medical condition because of your genetic makeup. Your genetic makeup is complex and unique. Many factors contribute to what genes you inherit and what genes you pass along to your children. Genetics Home Reference offers a chart to help you understand how conditions can be inherited from one generation to the next.
Why do I Want to Know My Family Health History?
When you know your family health history, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing genetic conditions. Actively making healthy lifestyle choices can prevent heart disease, diabetes and other health issues with a genetic factor. For example, if you have a family history of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, you may be able to prevent this disease by proactively managing your weight and your diet. Having a complete family history is also helpful for your healthcare provider. Your doctor can use your family history to make informed decisions about treatment and medication options. He or she can also recommend preventative checkups and diagnostic tests to watch for health conditions that run in your family.
Gathering Family Health Information: Consider Privacy and Make Your Intentions Clear
When you approach your family about their health history, be sure to respect their privacy. A person’s medical history can be sensitive, private information. Some family members may not want to discuss their personal health or talk about loved ones who have passed away. Always approach the subject of family health history with gentleness and understanding. If you’re adopted, ask your adoptive parents about your medical records. The adoption agency may also be a resource that can help connect you to your biological family’s health history.
Family Planning and Family Health History
It can be especially important for people who are planning to become pregnant to think about their family health history. If you or your partner has a history of a genetic disorder, you should learn about how genetic disorders are inherited. This can help you understand the many factors that lead to genetic health conditions and help you know the chances of your child developing the same condition. You should also ask if there’s a history of pregnancy complications, including miscarriages or birth defects in your family. Talk to your healthcare provider about genetic screening tests. These tests are typically for women over 35 years old or for people who have a family history of genetic disease.
Environmental and Lifestyle Family Health Factors: Choices You Can Control
In addition to genetics, your family lifestyle history can play a factor in your risk of developing a health condition. Families often share common habits and behaviors that can affect their overall health. Think about how your family environment could affect your activity level, the foods you eat, how much alcohol you consume and other lifestyle choices that may affect your health. As you pay attention to your family environment, you may become aware of healthy lifestyle changes you can make.
Examples of Common Genetic Conditions
Depending on your family health history, your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests and other regular preventative checkups. Common genetic conditions healthcare providers look for include certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel diseases, diabetes and heart disease.
Research shows that breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and others may have a genetic factor. If your family has a history of certain cancers, be sure to tell your doctor.
If you have a family history of osteoporosis and hip fractures, your doctor can test your bone density. Bone density is often genetic. If your family has brittle bones, you might too. Talk to your doctor about your nutrition and make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
You may inherit genes that make you more likely to develop Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Your doctor can recommend nutrition to keep your gut healthy. Amber Pharmacy patients can talk to licensed-registered dietitian Megan Hall about eating a nutritious diet.
Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes often run in families. You can reverse prediabetes or prevent type 2 diabetes with healthy lifestyle adjustments.
When you’re looking at family history, be sure to ask about heart disease. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are genetic and can increase your risk of developing more serious heart conditions.
Information to Include in Your Family Health History
As a general rule, the more you know about your family’s health history, the better. As you start gathering information about your relatives’ medical history, start by asking about a history of substance or alcohol abuse, pregnancy complications and other medical conditions. Ask about the cause of death for deceased relatives. Find out what problems your relatives are currently experiencing and when the condition first developed. Learn as much as you can about your family health history. Even an incomplete profile can be helpful. The U.S. Surgeon General provides an online resource to help you save your family health history and share that information with your healthcare provider. If a family member mentions an issue or has unresolved health concerns, gently encourage them to follow up with his or her healthcare provider.
Whether you are taking medications for a genetic condition or a different medical diagnosis, talk to your pharmacist at Amber Pharmacy about your family health history. Amber Pharmacy’s team takes a whole-health approach to managing complex, chronic conditions. Our clinical experts on condition-specific Centers of Excellence can help answer your questions about genetic health conditions and the medications used to treat them.