The Importance of Family Medical History

Often when we visit our doctor, we are asked questions about our family medical history. Most people know that certain medical issues can run in the family, but just why is it so important that your doctor has as much information as possible to best keep you healthy?

When you meet with your doctor, the doctor’s job is to collect as much relevant family medical historyinformation about you as possible, so they can make an informed decision as to how to best provide for your health. It may not be fun to answer question after question, or fill out those long information sheets in the waiting room, but collecting this kind of information is absolutely vital to making sure you receive optimal care.

What family medical history can tell your doctor

So why is your family medical history so important to your doctor? You share the same genes as your family members, and many diseases can be traced directly through genetics. If a family member suffers from a genetic disease, your doctor can get you tested and screened early, helping you best prevent and prepare for health issues related to heredity. Your family’s environment and lifestyle choices can also help your doctor better anticipate your health needs.

Ailments like cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease are genetic in nature and can be identified and treated using family health information. Furthermore, serious health problems like heart disease are often shared by family members, and knowing your family health history can help your doctor identify any concerns and plan for the future.

A list of the ten most common genetic disorders can be found here

Start the conversation

Clearly, it is important that you talk to your family and assess your family health history. It is not always easy to get this information, and may require some uncomfortable questioning. This is ok: your health is the most important thing you can take care of. It is absolutely reasonable to ask your family members about health concerns to best help your doctor provide for you.

The CDC has put together an excellent list of questions you can ask your family members that can get you going in the right direction:

Among the questions to ask are:

  • Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
  • Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?
  • How old were you when you developed these diseases?

Also ask questions about other relatives, both living and deceased, such as:

  • What is our family’s ancestry – what country did they come from?
  • What diseases did your deceased relatives have?
  • How old were they when they died?
  • What caused their deaths?

Check out the CDC’s article on Family Medical History here

Holidays are a good time to get your Family Medical History “mystery” filled in

The upcoming holidays (or any family get together) may provide an opportunity to speak with parents, aunts, uncles or other family members who remember details that you don’t even know about yet. Bring a pad of paper with you so that you remember what they share with you. When I ask patients about family medical history, the details often become fuzzy or confused so it is best to write things down.

And while we are on the subject of the holidays, you may enjoy my post on handling holiday stress.

family medical history 02Share with your doctor!

Once you have taken the steps to understand your family medical history, it is absolutely vital that you share as much information as possible with your doctor. The better your doctor understands your personal and family health history, the better they can assess risk and weigh screening and treatment options. So take the time to talk to family members, collect information, and help keep your doctor posted. Health care works best when doctors and patients are able to work together and share information.

Best wishes for the month to come,

Dr. Johnson