How many times have you sat down to fill out your paperwork at a physician’s office, then drawn a blank when you got to the “family history” section? It can be difficult to think back to what your parents told you about your grandparents’ medical histories, but it is incredibly important.
Why? Families share genes. These genes pass on your mom’s blue eyes or your dad’s freckles. They pass on grandma’s dimple from generation to generation. They also pass on risk of diseases such as cancer, hemophilia, heart disease, sickle cell anemia and diabetes. If your primary care physician knows you have a family history of a certain disease, he or she may refer you to a specialist or genetic counselor. They may just recommend you have special screenings. For example, women who have a strong family history of breast cancer are recommended to get an annual mammogram as early as 5-10 years prior to the youngest breast cancer case in the family.
A 2004 survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. Yet, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history. As National Family History Day, Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to talk to your loved ones about what medical conditions they have been diagnosed with. You should also ask at what age they were diagnosed, how they were treated, and their prognosis.
After Thanksgiving, take time to write down what you learned. The United States Surgeon General makes it easy. They created an online tool called “My Family Health Portrait”, which gives you one place to save all of your family medical history. You can even go back and download it before any physician appointment.
Once you know your family history, hop over to Healthy100.org and take the longevity calculator. This tool takes into account your lifestyle, health habits and family history to give you an expected age. The goal is to live to a Healthy 100 and beyond. The tool provides quick and easy things you can do to improve your life expectancy.