A number of celebrities have graced recent headlines by making some drastic decisions about their health, and in turn, raising awareness for the importance of knowing one’s family medical history.
For instance, according to the CDC, a history of breast, cervical or ovarian cancer indicates a strong risk of cancer in some women, and thus proactive and preventative measures, like having a mastectomy or hysterectomy, may be warranted.
While facing these decisions can be difficult, Brittney Wilson, a registered nurse, knows first-hand the positive effect that knowing one’s family medical history can have on a patient’s overall health. Since many diseases tend to follow genetic lines, it’s important to know your roots in order to make better lifestyle choices. For example, if you have a history of common medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, you have a higher chance of developing them as well, but prevention is possible.
Nurse Wilson offers steps you can take to develop a family medical history record that will help inform your lifestyle choices and serve generations to come.
Step 1: Seek answers to lingering questions
You inherit half of your genetic profile from each parent. So, the first step in establishing your family medical history is to seek answers to any doubts or questions you may have about your parents’ identity. In today’s society, and with the rising rate of children born out of wedlock, this situation is actually more common than you might think. In fact, a recent survey conducted on behalf of Identigene, a DNA paternity test laboratory, concluded that one out of ten Americans has personally been in a situation where a paternity test was needed. In addition, nearly one out of five respondents said that they or a close friend or family member has questioned paternity. However, discovering your paternity can be fairly simple. A kit, such the Identigene DNA Paternity Test, is available at nationwide drug stores and supercenters, and offers 100 percent accurate and confidential results within a matter of days.
Step 2: Talk to your family
The best way to gather information about your medical history is to talk with relatives about their health. An upcoming holiday gathering or family reunion is a great opportunity to start the conversation. Explain why you want to learn more about your family history and ask direct, specific questions to uncover any reoccurring medical issues and when they occurred. Consult existing documents, such as family trees, birth certificates and obituaries, to help obtain this information. From these materials, you can begin identifying potential patterns that should be discussed with a doctor.
Step 3: Be proactive about getting healthy
After identifying potential patterns, make a point to discuss them with your primary care doctor at your next annual exam. A medical professional might suggest necessary screening and proactive steps you can take to help stay healthy and avoid certain predisposed conditions in the future. It’s also a good idea to continue to update your family medical history record to help future generations navigate their health.
Preventative care is the most cost effective and least invasive way to ensure your health and prevent illness. Being aware of your family’s medical history is the first step towards making informed choices for a healthier lifestyle.