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Your family history is easily one of the strongest influences on your risk of many diseases. Yet, many of us aren’t aware of the health problems that could be passed down through our genes. It’s crucial to have a good handle on your family’s health history simply because knowing this can help you reduce your risk of developing similar ailments and illnesses. November is known as National Family Health History Month in which we encourage all Americans to learn about the health conditions of their loved ones.

What is Your Family History?

A family medical history is simply a record of the health information of your close relatives. Generally, this includes a record of at least three generations of relatives and should definitely include:

    • Children
    • Siblings
    • Parents
    • Aunts and Uncles
    • Nieces and Nephews
    • Grandparents
    • Great-Grandparents
    • Cousins.

Genes, environment, and lifestyle are the three main components that provide clues as to which medical conditions may run in a family. In knowing your family’s medical history, you and your doctor can find patterns and determine which conditions you may have a particular risk of. In this, you can work together to develop a preventative plan to reduce your risk.

Why is it Important to Know?

Comprehensive knowledge of the diseases that affect your family members is important. It can prepare you for your own future risks because many conditions are hereditary. Having a record is a precautionary step that may provide motivation to develop healthy habits that will keep the risk of these ailments and illnesses from getting any higher. Barring this, even if your family has a history of something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get that condition yourself. Still, it’s better to be safe than be sorry!

How to Collect Your Family History

Start the conversation. Talking to your family members is the best way to gather this information. Be willing to contribute to the dialogue and be open and honest. This can be an awkward conversation for some, but it’s crucial. If you find some family members are warry, consider starting out with something one-on-one. Keep in mind that you should know any major medical issues, causes of death, age of diagnosis, ethnic background, and environmental factors like habits and behaviors.

How to Act on Your Family Health History

Once you have the data, don’t forget to share it with your doctor! They can help you interpret what this means about your current lifestyle and provide insight into preventative tips and screening and testing options. Similarly, your doctor can make suggestions of things that may reduce your chances of developing these hereditary conditions.

This month (and all months) we encourage you to engage with your family! With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to speak to family members and learn more about your heritage, not only to bond but for the sake of your health.