Every time you visit the doctor, the physician has probably asked you a series of questions related to your family health history: “Has anyone in your family had cancer, high blood pressure, or heart disease?” “How old were your grandparents when they died?” “Was this on your mother’s or father’s side?”
You may gloss over these questions, answering them in the same way you’ve been taught to do your entire life. What you may not realize is the value these answers hold. They give your healthcare provider important information about any tests to order and other steps to take to lower your risk.
Knowing your family’s health history is so important that, in 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General established National Family Health History Day. The day was purposefully created to fall on Thanksgiving when families gather to share stories and conversations. This year, the two holidays fall on November 25, and Nightingale Healthcare is encouraging you to take advantage of the unique opportunity to ask your elderly family members – who maintain a treasure trove of knowledge – about their health history so that you can live happy and healthy lives together.
What better time to talk about family than when you’re all gathered together giving thanks for one another?
KNOWING YOUR RISK
Just like your parents’ genes can determine whether you’ll have blonde hair or dimples, they can also impact whether or not you will inherit a particular disease.
For the most part, understanding your family health history involves looking at disease and conditions that may “run in the family” and determine your own risk based on this. While there is no specific gene mutation for conditions like cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, or lung disease, having these in your family history can increase your own risk.
Here are some situations that can increase your risk:
- A first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) diagnosed with ovarian, breast, colon, or uterine cancer before the age of 50
- Multiple family members diagnosed with ovarian, breast, colon, or uterine cancer
- A first-degree relative diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes
- A first-degree relative diagnosed with another chronic condition like high blood pressure, heart disease, or lung disease
While family genes likely play some role in increasing your risk for a certain condition, there are indirect influences, as well. For example, family members typically share behaviors, lifestyles, and habits, and unhealthy lifestyle choices can also lead to an increased risk of chronic diseases.
TALKING WITH YOUR FAMILY
To know your risk for these conditions, it’s important to have as full of an understanding of your family health history as possible. So, the next time you are with your family, ask them about their health history, including current and past conditions, surgeries or treatment, age of diagnosis, and ages and causes of death of those who have passed away. These questions should extend to any blood relative, including parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins, and half-siblings.
Once you have collected your family health history, it’s important to share this information with your healthcare provider so they can determine if they need to order any screening tests. For example, if your family has a history of breast cancer, your doctor may suggest a mammogram before the typical recommended age of 40.
On the other hand, if you have conditions like diabetes or heart disease in your family, your physician may simply recommend certain lifestyle changes to help lower your risk. More and more studies show that certain habits, like being active, eating well, being social, and avoiding excess alcohol and tobacco, can significantly lower your risk of chronic conditions.
CREATING A HEALTHY FUTURE
Knowing your family health history is not only valuable in promoting your own health and wellness, but it also benefits your children, your children’s children, and every generation to come. So, on this National Family Health History Day, we encourage you to learn about your family’s past to create a healthy future!
Nightingale Healthcare is a privately held, family-owned healthcare management company located in picturesque Bellingham, Washington. Founded in 2014, it has been our mission to serve the communities in which we are located with superior skilled nursing and assisted living services. Our patient-centered approach to care incorporates individualized care plans alongside an unmatched level of compassion, patience, and love.
We proudly operate nursing communities throughout Washington and Oregon. For more information about our nursing communities and the services we provide, please visit our website or contact Nightingale Healthcare directly at 360-656-6609.