Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy holidays, and oh, can we talk?

     After you’ve opened the presents and eaten the holiday ham, there’s nothing like a family game of Monopoly or a fierce game of Wii tennis on Christmas Day. If you have family around this holiday season, it might also be a good time to pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and talk about family health history. You’ve heard me right. Family health history isn’t as fun as a board game, but it’s an important discussion to have.

     Doctors know that common diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease can run in families. If there’s high blood pressure in one generation, it’s likely someone in the next generation will have high blood pressure too. Tracing the illnesses of your mom, dad or Uncle Larry can help your doctor predict what disorders you could inherit, and chart a path to avoid them.

     Let’s face it, getting a conversation going about family medical history is awkward. Most people agree health history is important (Health and Human Services says 96% of people), but only one-third of Americans actually collect the data.

     But as difficult as it is to break the ice on family health history, it’s a conversation that benefits many—and your doctor will thank you for it. To get the ball rolling, talk to your mother, father, grandparents, and siblings about diseases and conditions in your family.

     If Uncle Harry and Aunt Sylvia both died of heart disease in their early fifties, that’s great information to know. So is a combination of diseases within a family, like breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes.

     A little technology may help move things along, so pull out a laptop or gather around the home computer. There are quite a few family history portrait tools out there. One of the easiest is from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The site lets you create your own personal profile and then add other family members and their health histories later. The web tool also lets you print out your personal history to share with your doctor.

     Remember, even though you can’t exchange your genes (like you’re going do with that beautiful sweater from Great-Aunt Sally), knowing what’s in them can help promote your good health.

By Anne Gill

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