Over the holiday break, I had the opportunity to talk with my aunt who was adopted when she was a child. She is now in her 40’s. A few years ago, she decided she wanted to try to find her real parents. My aunt has had many health problems. In fact, she has been a multiple kidney transplant recipient and has experienced dialysis, and a variety of other challenges.
The first time she needed a kidney transplant her adopted sister actually matched up and was able to donate her kidney to her. It was a great blessing! When my aunt was telling me about the search to find her mother (and she was able to locate her – although she found her a little too late because her mother had passed away a year prior to that time.), she said that one of the main reasons she was interested in finding out who her real parents are was because she wanted to better understand their health history. In fact, she was very curious to know whether her mother or father also had kidney problems. As my aunt was speaking with me, I started asking myself, “What do I know about my family’s health history? and “Why should this information be important to me?”
During the rest of this article, I would like to discuss the importance of knowing the health history of your family.
Why Should I Know My Family’s Health History?
Knowing your family’s health history is important for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes diseases and health problems can run in families. For example, if your grandmother has high blood pressure, your mother may also have high blood pressure. In fact, your blood pressure may be high as well. This is true for many health problems such as cancer, heart problems, diabetes, etc. If you have had a medical examination, you may recall that before the doctor treats you, you are often asked to fill out a stream of papers documenting your medical history.
Acting Surgeon General Steven K Galson, M.D., M.P.H., declared Thanksgiving 2008 as the fifth annual National Family History Day. When you are gathered with your family for the holidays (perhaps for Christmas, since Thanksgiving has past), Dr. Galson encourages you to talk with your family and/or write down your families health history. He claims that by taking the time to do this, you may ensure a longer, healthier future together.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services has created a program to allow you to create on the Web a personalized family health history report. Here is the link if you want to try it out: https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/.
I decided to fill it out, and here are the results:
Both of my grandparents passed away from heart problems, so heart disease is something that I (as well as my family members) should pay attention to. If heart disease runs in your family, here are some ways to prevent it:
1. Participate in a form of physical activity each day.
2. Do not smoke. If you do smoke, take steps to stop smoking.
3. Eat healthy: Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterols, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains
How Do I Learn More About My Family Health History?
The best way to find out about your family health history is simply to talk with your family. Ask your parents about the health history of your grandparents and great grandparents. If you are a parent, talk to your children about your family health history.