Do you know your family’s health history? Eating right and taking good care of yourself are just part of the picture. Your heritage holds a very important key to your health. If you’re like most people, you may have some idea as to the history of your family’s health, but you probably don’t have the full story.
Mapping out your family health history is important because it can help you and your doctor create a unique wellness plan that incorporates your risks for developing health issues and suggestions for making optimal wellness choices about your environment, lifestyle and habits.
Here are tips for gathering your family health history and to help your daily wellness planning.
1. Start with Your Immediate Family
The first step to learning about your health history is to start asking questions. Start with your immediate family and then branch out. Consider your own health and the health of your children, then talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and even your extended family.
Top Questions to Ask Family Members
- Do you know of any family members who have had major medical conditions, including yourself?
- How old was the person at symptoms or disease onset?
- What are some medical-related causes of death that run in our family?
- Are there any common environmental factors that may have contributed to family diseases?
- What is our family’s complete ethnic background?
2. Enlist the Family Historian
Ask individuals directly when you can, but also check with the family historian. Almost every family has someone who keeps in touch with everyone and knows a lot about family members who are deceased. Talk with him or her and ask for memories and details. Family reunions are a great opportunity to find this person and learn about your family history, including health.
3. Stay Organized and Share Information
While you are asking questions and gathering information, you will want a system for staying organized. All the family medical records, adoption records, death certificates, and notes can add up and be hard to keep track of. Make a dedicated folder or binder that will be easy to share with relatives later. Also, many apps and online services offer ways to store and organize your health information, plus share information with doctors, caregivers, family and other people.
4. Consider Genetic Testing
If you don’t have access to information on the medical history of your family due to deaths, adoption or family relations, genetic testing might help answer some of your questions. Genetic tests can provide information on heredity, diet and environmental history, and identify patterns of diseases and potential health risks.
Even if you know your family’s medical history, your doctor might recommend a genetic test if a pattern of disease runs in your family. Genetic tests can help identify your individual levels of risk and inform your daily wellness plan. If you’re curious about genetic testing, consult with your doctor.
5. Speak with Your Doctor
After you’ve collected your family’s health history, speak with your doctor about it. Your doctor can assess your health risks based on the details of your family’s medical history along with other risk factors and make recommendations for lifestyle changes that may help prevent disease. Your doctor may also suggest screening tests to detect disease early or consultation with a dietitian if you have specific diet-related health concerns. Diet, sleep and exercise are all daily habits that you can focus on to help you enjoy life-long wellness.
6. Update Health History Records Often
Family health history can change often, so update your records annually. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family Health History Day to encourage families to talk to each other every year about health problems that run in their family. Remember, holidays and family reunions are a good time to think about your family’s health history since you are usually around more family members.
7. Strive for Long-Term Wellness
Supporting your long-term health should be a priority. Discovering, sharing and updating your family health history can help keep you (and others) aware of certain health risks that run in your family. If you’re focused on heart health, you may want to consider adding essential fatty acids to your diet. For eye health, adding macular carotenoids, like lutein and zeaxanthin, to your diet with dark leafy greens and supplements (see Swanson’s new Vision Defense to help protect your eyes from blue light), might be a daily health goal. Or, perhaps a real food multivitamin might be the right choice for you to fill in nutrient gaps. Knowing your family health history can help you focus on creating a daily health plan for optimal wellness.
About Shane Durkee
Chief Innovation Officer, Swanson Health
Shane has over 20 years of consumer products research and development experience in leading teams in innovation, product development and medical science. He is passionate about improving people’s lives through the latest technologies and scientific research in wellness and health. As a city dweller, he likes to walk everywhere rather than drive and fits in a split regimen between weight training and cardiovascular exercise to keep boredom at bay.
1Family History is Important for Your Health. Understanding Genetics: A New York, Mid-Atlantic Guide for Patients and Health Professionals: National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK115560/ (Accessed 12/15/2017)