In 2004, the Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving Day as National Family Health History Day. Your family health history can impact your health because diseases and health conditions can be passed down. Since you share some of the same genes as your family members, it is possible that you may be at risk for the same health conditions as others in your family. Sharmila Matippa, MD, an internal medicine physician with Adventist Medical Group, shares why knowing your family history is important to your health.

Prevention

Knowing your family health history is important because then you are aware of health conditions that may run in your family. “By knowing the health conditions of your family members and sharing them with your doctor allows you to take preventive steps to lower your risk, complete necessary tests and be aware of signs and symptoms,” explains Dr. Matippa. Conditions that run in families can include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

Talk with Family Members

To find out information about your family’s health history, talk with family members about health conditions they may have. Note your grandparents’ and parents’ health history. This is not only important to you, but your children as well. Talk with your aunts, uncles and cousins, too. Some diseases or conditions can skip generations, so while your parents might not have it, you or another family member could.

Ask Questions

To build your health history profile, take note of any health conditions that you already know about. If you feel a family member is open to talking about their health, ask some general questions, like what age they developed their illness or condition and if they know if any other family members have the same. Dr. Matippa adds that knowing some additional details can help you and your doctor watch for the condition. If your family members don’t want to answer the questions you ask, don’t pressure them. They may open up to you at a later time or they may want their privacy.

Record Information

Write down the information your family shares. List who has the condition and their relationship to you. Also note that just because your family members have a certain condition, doesn’t mean you are going to have it too. Knowing your family health history is often used to better understand your risk for certain health conditions.  It also helps to develop a plan to reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions. If heart disease runs in your family, you could ensure that you know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and A1C) to monitor your heart health and practice healthier eating habits to reduce your risk of more serious heart conditions.

Share with your Doctor

When you meet with your doctor, be sure to share your family history. They will record it and add the information to your medical file. This can help you develop a plan together of possible health conditions to watch for and ways to prevent them. “The more information you provide, the better your doctor can understand your health history and use it as a guide for your health,” says Dr. Matippa.

Sharmila Matippa, MD

Sharmila Matippa, MD

Sharmila Matippa, MD, is a family medicine physician with Adventist Medical Group in Rockville, MD.

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