Gathering for the Holidays? Time to Talk Medical History.


The holidays are right around the corner, and it’s time to start making plans for when you’ll see your family next. Whether you meet up with them all the time, or only once a year, this is the perfect time to start asking about your family medical history. It might seem trivial in light of Thanksgiving turkeys and the kids opening their Christmas gifts, but it matters more than you may realize.

Why is My Medical History Important?

The short answer is that some diseases are hereditary. Things like breast cancer, colon cancer, Huntington’s Disease, Sickle Cell Anemia, and Cystic Fibrosis to name a few can be hereditary.

Some diseases can be treated more readily in the earlier stages. The problem is that your doctor may not test for that particular disease if they aren’t aware that you’re at risk. Some diseases are rarer than others, so the test isn’t exactly routine. 

This is where your family medical history comes in. The more information your doctor has, the better they can look out for your health. So what kind of information are they looking for?

What Kind of Information Would My Doctor Want?

The short answer is anything and everything you can learn. The longer answer is specifics regarding your family’s background.

According to the CDC, information about the health of your parents, grandparents, siblings, half-siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, great grandparents, and even your own children is a great place to start. 

Other information your doctor may want to know about includes how long your family members lived, specific diseases they might have had, what age they were diagnosed, and what treatments they received.

What Kind of Questions Should I Ask?

Talking to your family about this may not be comfortable in some situations, so it’s important to have a list of questions before you go. Some of the things you should ask include:

  • Do we have a history of disease in our family? If so, what?
  • How old were your parents when they died?
  • Do you have any diseases?
  • How old were you when you were diagnosed with that?
  • Where is our family from?

If they don’t have answers, or you aren’t that close to your family, you can also lookup medical records, death certificates, and other information. While their doctor can’t reveal this due to HIPAA, you may be able to find out from family friends.

How Much of a Role Does Genetics Play in My Health?

Genetics determine what color your hair will be, how tall you are, your fears, the types of food you eat, and so much more. It also affects your health.

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, “A genetic disorder is a disease caused in whole or in part by a change in the DNA sequence away from the normal sequence. Genetic disorders can be caused by a mutation in one gene (monogenic disorder), by mutations in multiple genes (multifactorial inheritance disorder), by a combination of gene mutations and environmental factors, or by damage to chromosomes (changes in the number or structure of entire chromosomes, the structures that carry genes).”

Does My Ethnicity Matter When It Comes to Genetics?

Your ethnicity can play a huge role in your genetics. MedlinePlus reports, “People in an ethnic group often share certain versions of their genes, which have been passed down from common ancestors. If one of these shared genes contains a disease-causing variant (also known as a mutation), a particular genetic disorder may be more frequently seen in the group.”

Some of the more common genetic disorders that are more prevalent in certain ethnic groups include Sickle Cell Anemia and Tay-Sachs disease. Sickle Cell Anemia is prevalent in people with African or Mediterranean heritage. Ashkenazi (eastern and central European) Jewish or French ancestry can develop Tay-Sachs. 

It’s important to note that people who aren’t of a specific ethnicity can also develop these diseases, however. It’s rare, but it happens.

How Are Hereditary Diseases Passed From One Generation to Another?

Like so many things with health, it all boils down to DNA. Or more specifically, the chromosomes. The CDC reports that we inherit our chromosomes from our parents. Some chromosomes come from the mother and some from the father. 

Some diseases require that you get the gene from each parent, which is all the more reason to learn about your family history. It can affect not only you but any children you have.

How can this information save me and my family’s lives?

Learning more about your genetics can let your doctor know what you could potentially get. This means they can start treatment earlier if you do have it. 

Even if you don’t inherit any genetic diseases, this doesn’t mean you can’t pass them down in the future. Genetics are funny. They can skip a generation, or even two. Even if you didn’t inherit a disease that runs in your family, you may still be a carrier. 

There are tests that may be able to tell you this, but again, how do you know to test for it if you aren’t aware of it? Asking your family for more information can help put you on the right track to getting the right tests.

Are There Tests That Can Help Me Know and Understand My Family’s Medical History?

DNA tests are the most obvious route. This will let you know more about your ancestry, which can tell your doctor about what you may have inherited that even your family may not be aware of. 

Genetic counseling is another route. The National Human Genome Research Institute reports that a genetic counselor can talk to you alone or with your family, and will run tests that will be able to determine the chances that you have a specific disease, and confirm it.

It’s important to note that just because you have a family history of a disease, it doesn’t mean that you will contract it. Your chances are probably higher than someone who doesn’t have a history of it, but you may never get it. 

The Woman’s Clinic in Mississippi

Even so, it’s important to speak to your doctor. The more information you get, the better your chances of getting the right treatment is. It’s also good information to pass along to your children, as they share at least half of your genetic makeup. So start by discussing your family history over the holidays. Who knows what interesting facts you might learn? For more questions, you can ask over the holidays, contact us today for an appointment.

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