They say those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it – and nowhere is this more true than with your family health history. The illnesses and maladies that plagued your ancestors are likely to pop up again in your life, or the life of a close sibling or relative. Knowing your own individual risk factors puts you ahead of the game in preventing and treating potential health problems. And yet, only about a third of us know our family health history or make a point to record and track them.
Obviously, we don’t mean you should be concerned about Great-Aunt Mabel who died from influenza during the Great Depression. The diseases and illnesses in your family history that are of most concern are those that have been linked to genetics. These include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, Alzheimers, depression, high blood pressure, and stroke, among others. If your parents or grandparents suffered any of these conditions, you are definitely at an increased risk of battling the same ailment in your future. Aunts, uncles, and cousins are also important links, but because the waters get muddied by other families’ gene pools due to marriage, it’s not as likely that you’ll suffer from diabetes just because one of your second cousins does. Where more extended relatives take a more prevalent role is in examining the family history as a whole. If you were to look at the entire family tree and color code it for each illness, and then noticed nearly 50% shared the color for heart disease, that would be a major wake-up call for you to start taking better care of your cardiovascular health. Likewise, if you were to find that your parents were the first in your family to suffer from high cholesterol, it should motivate you to examine their diets (and yours) and see if you could keep the high cholesterol fight from becoming a family statistic.
If you know and are in touch with your immediate and/or extended family, make a point to contact family members and learn about your family health history. If you are adopted, estranged from your family, or otherwise unable to uncover this information, always err on the side of caution and ask your doctor which tests may be wise for your ethnicity or cultural background.