A New Family Tradition


The holiday season is upon us, full of traditions passed down from generation to generation. This year, The Woman’s Clinic suggests adding a new tradition to family gatherings-gathering and updating your family medical history.

Why Is Family History Important?

Many conditions run in families and most specialists treating those conditions stress the importance of the patient knowing their family history. Do you know yours? Sitting down with your relatives may provide important information that could affect your medical care and ultimately may save your life.

Finding multiple family members with certain cancers does not necessarily mean that it is an inherited trait and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. It should, however, provide an opportunity to discuss your findings with your doctor. Cancer is a common disease, so it is not unusual to find more than one case in a family history. This alone might not cause much concern, but rare types of cancers, multiple types of cancer in the same person, cancers that appear at a younger than normal age, or cancer occurring in many generations are more concerning and should be documented.

What Information Should I Gather?

It is not necessary to research your entire genealogy. Limit your inquiries to parents, grandparents, blood related aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, siblings, and your own children. If no one remembers a specific cause of death for a relative, try finding their death certificate to fill in any gaps in your information.

Specifically, look for any major medical condition and the age of onset of those conditions. There are more than a few types of illnesses that should be tracked. Most people automatically think of cancer, and you need to specify type. But don’t stop there. Other conditions can be important to monitor including: clotting disorders, dementia or Alzheimer’s, diabetes – Type 1 or 2, and GI disorders.

Heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure should also be tracked. Ask about kidney disease, lung disease, osteoporosis, psychological disorders, septicemia, stroke, and sudden infant death syndrome. Be as specific as possible and Include in your document:

  • Cause and age at death.
  • Ethnic background, specifically Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. Ashkenazi Jews have a higher risk for certain conditions such as breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Categorize your family members into “sides,” for example mother’s side of the family and father’s side of the family.

The Surgeon General offers all of this information in an online tool for taking a Family Health Portrait. While it might be convenient, it is not necessary to use this tool. A simple pad of paper and a pencil is all the technology required. Gathering this information will be an important step in your health care plan and will be a gift to the next generation. Once you have your family history documented, bring the document with you to your next appointment at The Woman’s Clinic. Your doctor can look over the information and see if there is any cause for concern. Is it time for your yearly exam? You can make an appointment with us at either our Jackson or Madison office.

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