I hope that you come from a family that openly discusses health issues - I sure do. But you sometimes hear of families who still don't really talk about this important subject. Many families from my parents generation were very hush hush about anything like cancer. If the subject was brought up it was in a whispered tone like "He's got the big C." And, it was never named or discussed again. So many people are ashamed when an illness strikes them, but as they say "no one gets out of here alive". We will all succumb to something and making our health information available to other family members just increases every ones changes of living a longer, healthier life. The below article explains why having this information is so important.

If your uncle has heart disease, your grandmother had a stroke and a cousin has diabetes, you’d likely feel empathy for them. But there’s something else you should do - you should keep a record. Your family medical history is a record of health information about you and your close relatives. This information can help your health care professionals determine if you, your family members or future generations might be at higher risk for developing particular conditions. It can also help your health care provider determine if you or someone in your family could benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor for a hereditary risk assessment.

Your family medical history should contain health information from three generations, including:

· Parents

· Grandparents

· Children

· Brothers and sisters

· Aunts and uncles

· Nieces and nephews

· Cousins

The record should note family diagnoses of conditions such as:

· Heart disease

· High blood pressure and high cholesterol

· Stroke

· Cancers such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer

· Diabetes

· Neuromuscular disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and others

· Rare conditions such as cystic fibrosis and blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia, which can also have a hereditary factor

Risks for these and other genetic disorders can run in families. You and your family share genes and likely a similar environment and lifestyles. Your health care provider can discuss how these factors might affect your health risks.

It’s important to know that having diagnoses of these conditions in your family doesn’t mean you’ll develop any of the conditions, and people with no family history of these conditions still may have risks. But knowing these conditions are in your family allows you and your health care provider to explore your options and take steps to reduce your risks.

For example, if you have an increased risk of certain cancers, your health care professional may suggest you have screenings like mammograms or colonoscopies more often than people with average risk. And you may want to consider lifestyle changes such as opting for a healthier diet, increasing your exercise activity and quitting smoking. These changes can reduce your risks of developing heart disease and other common disorders.

How to collect your family medical history

Start by contacting your family members about the family medical history. Explain the benefits of the family medical history, and ask your family about their health and conditions others in the family may have. Records such as death certificates and obituaries can provide additional information. Once you’ve gathered information, plan to keep it up to date with changes. Share it with others in the family so they can help keep it updated. Share this valuable information with your health care professionals as well.

Luckily most people are now open to discussing these matters, however, there might not be any place where this information is kept. We all think that we will remember these details, however, as time passes, we might start thinking did so and so have this medical problem or something else? You would be helping everyone in your family and future generations too just by starting this important document if one doesn't already exist.

Source: Advocate Health eNewsletter by Dr. David M. Jenks

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