Create a medical history tree

Next time you gather for a family
reunion, consider sharing something more important than Aunt Martha’s macaroni
salad recipe.

It’s important to know your family
medical history, and large family gatherings are the best place to gather the
details, according to health officials.

“Knowing your family medical
history can save your life,” said Karen Brooks, a genetic counsellor and
assistant professor at the University Of South Carolina School Of Medicine.

There’s a reason doctors always ask
about your family’s health history. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many
other disorders have genetic factors passed down through the generations.
Knowing if your family has a history for any of these conditions allows you and
your physician to take steps to prevent you from becoming part of an unwanted
family tradition.

A survey cited by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services noted that 96 percent of Americans
think knowing their family health history is important, but less than a third
of Americans have gathered to discuss and write down those histories.

Reunions are a great place to start
because family elders have a depth of knowledge about medical problems. Brooks
suggests checking in with family members before a reunion to let them know you
will be asking medical history questions. That way they can do a little
research to jog their memories.


Some other tips

Start with the biggies. Major birth
defects, cancer, stroke and cardiovascular problems. Discussion of disorders such
as mental illness and learning disabilities might be a little touchier, but you
should try to delve into those matters, too.

Look at both sides of your family.
If your reunion is almost exclusively members of your mother’s side of the
family, try to do the same thing at the next get-together of the folks in your
father’s family.

Try to get at least three
generations of information. Start with your immediate family. Then build from
that nucleus, creating a medical family tree.

Share the information once it’s
compiled. Don’t stop after the initial information is compiled. Family medical
histories, like families, grow through the years.


The 3-2-1 rule

One instance of a disease might not
mean much. Health officials go by the 3-2-1 rule. It’s worth special attention
if three relatives on the same side of the family have had the same disorder,
at least two of those are closely related (sibling, parent, child) or at least
one was affected at a young age (before 50 for most cancers).

“Yes to all three definitely
warrants mentioning your family history to your health-care provider,” Ms
Brooks said.

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