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When you go to a new doctor for the first time, one of the first tasks they give you is to fill out a form indicating the health history of your immediate family members.
You may think it’s odd and be hesitant to divulge your family’s history to others. In reality it is one of the best pieces of information that your doctor will have in treating you for years to come.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a full and complete family health history as three generations worth of information from your immediate family members.
Necessary information includes any medical conditions, causes of death and age of death among other items. If possible, this information should be collected from as many immediate family members as possible, including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.
The usefulness of a complete family health history stems from the fact that families share the same genes, lifestyles and environments. This can help your doctor to identify any conditions that might run in the family and be caused by a shared source.
Some of the more common conditions that can run in families include heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes. Most families have at least one chronic disease that’s common between multiple family members.
If you’re at risk of developing rarer hereditary conditions such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, you can be monitored proactively if your doctor finds a history of it in your family.
A great time to start developing your personal family health history is at family gatherings, where you can collect information from multiple relatives at the same time. One technique is to write down on a piece of paper the information that you need to attain from each member of the family and then have them fill it out themselves. Always be sure to respect your relative’s right to privacy by not sharing their information with anyone except your doctor.
This approach allows for your relative to provide you with their history to be used by your doctor without having to discuss intimate details with them. It’s important to know that even a partial history is better for your doctor to have than none at all. If you can only get information from your mom and dad, do exactly that. Regardless of if the history is complete or not, it will help your doctor know what to look for and what screenings may be appropriate for you to have.
You can’t change your family’s health history, but by being aware of it, you can work to prevent any diseases that run in your family tree.