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Good Health Starts Here

Know Your Roots

A Healthy Understanding of Your Family’s Medical & Health History Gives You an Important Leg Up on Fighting Disease

As you look around the dinner table this Thanksgiving (which is also National Family History Day), you’ll probably see how much you resemble a parent, sibling, or cousin. Whether it is similar eyes, curly hair, or the prominence of your chin, it’s clear you get your appearance from those who came before you.

Family members share more than similar looks, however.

Oftentimes, thanks to similar genetic makeup, environments, and lifestyles, family members share afflictions and diseases. While each of us is unique, knowing which conditions run throughout your family history can help you treat or even avoid them.

Collecting your family health history is an important first step. No matter how much you know about your family’s medical history, take time to talk to your family about their health histories this holiday season. It might not be the easiest topic to discuss, and your family members might not be excited to talk about their diseases. But starting the conversation is important. Remember, you’re asking not just for your own health but for the health of everyone in your family.

Here are some tips for you to get started:

1. Talk to your family

With Thanksgiving coming up, this may be the perfect time to speak with members of your family you may not regularly see. Talk to these family members about what conditions they have or had and at what age the conditions were first diagnosed.

2. Ask questions

To find out about your risk for chronic diseases, ask your relatives questions like:

  • Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
  • How old were you when each of these diseases or health conditions was diagnosed?
  • What were the causes and ages of death for relatives who have died?

3. Make a record of the information

Take what you learn from these conversations and organize it into a readily accessible place. Be diligent about updating it whenever you learn new family health history information as well. My Family Health Portrait, a free web-based tool, is helpful in organizing the information in your family health history.

4. Share the information

Be sure to give your family health information not only to your doctor but other members of your family so they can proactively address any conditions they may be more susceptible to.

Learning about your family health history and sharing that information with your doctor or healthcare team helps you develop a complete picture of your health. This information can help you take preventive steps that can lead to better health outcomes in the future.

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