Most of us know that our risk of disease can be reduced by eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising and not smoking. But, did you know that your family history may be one of the strongest influences on your risk for developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer?
By knowing your family medical history, that is, keeping a record of illnesses and medical conditions affecting your family members, you can lower your risk of developing health problems.
"Let's be clear: A family medical history report can't predict your future health. It only provides information about risk"
As well as sharing your environment, lifestyle and habits with your family members, you may also share and inherit genes that might cause or increase your risk of medical conditions. It can be fascinating to know what you might be susceptible to, and the knowledge lets you keep on top of regularly getting tested for things you may find in your results.
Everyone’s family history of disease is different, and revealing your own can help you to identify patterns that might be relevant to your own health. The key features of a family history that may increase risk are:
If your family has one or more of these risk factors, your family history may hold important clues about your risk for disease.
You may know a lot about your family health history or only a little. To get the complete picture, you can:
Be sure to update the information regularly and share what you’ve learned with your family and with your doctor.
Genetic testing may also help determine if you or your family members are at risk. Even with inherited forms of disease, steps can be taken to reduce your risk.
Take a look at this news article in the Daily Mail about a small child being tested for a gene responsible for increasing the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Despite the news being very unsettling, it is still uncertain whether the young girl will develop the disease in future, and is an example of how it can be useful in knowing how at risk you are in developing certain diseases and genetic conditions.
Even if you don’t have a history of a particular health problem, you could still be at risk. This could be because:
What information should be included in a family medical history?
If possible, your family medical history should include at least three generations. Compile information about your grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, cousins, children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. For each person, try to gather the following information:
In many cases, adopting a healthier lifestyle can reduce your risk for diseases that run in your family. Screening tests, such as diabetes screening, mammograms, and colorectal cancer screening, help find early signs of disease. Finding disease early can often mean better health in the long run.
Be proactive in safeguarding your health and that of your family by looking into the genetic background of your family’s health history.