Thanksgiving presents opportunity to gather family health historyWhen families get together for Thanksgiving, they may want to use the opportunity to gather their family health history. Such histories play an important role in raising awareness of potential illness and can help people take steps to prevent or delay the onset of these diseases.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
When families get together for Thanksgiving, they may want to use the opportunity to gather their family health history.
Such histories play an important role in raising awareness of potential illness and can help people take steps to prevent or delay the onset of these diseases.
Families share genetics, environment, lifestyles and habits — all factors that affect one’s risk of getting a health problem. Sharing information can promote longer, healthier lives.
Most Americans know family history is important to health, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family’s health history.
Every year since 2004, the surgeon general has declared Thanksgiving a National Family History Day.
Over the holiday — or whenever families gather — Americans are encouraged to talk about and write down health problems that seem to run in their family.
Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the surgeon general has created a computerized tool to help make it easy for anyone to create a portrait of their family’s health.
“My Family Health History” is a Web-enabled program that runs on any computer that’s connected to the Web and is running an up-to-date version of any major Internet browser.
The free, Web-based tool helps users organize family history information, and then print it to share with their family doctor. No user information is saved on any computer of the U.S. federal government, the DHHS website states.
The tool also helps users save their family history information to their own computer and give it to other family members.
Start the conversation
The Heartland Regional Genetics and Newborn Screening Collaborative offers suggestions for gathering family health history.
It recommends people start by talking with close family members — parents, brothers and sisters, children. Then talk with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.
Sometimes, the senior member of the family knows the most and could be a good person to start with.
The collaborative recommends family members talk about:
• Health problems they have had
• Age when their problem started or was diagnosed
• Age and cause of death for family members who have died
• Lifestyle habits (i.e. smoking, alcohol use)
• Ethnic background and country of origin
If family members don’t want to talk about the family’s health history together, try talking one-on-one with relatives. Start with those family members who already have a health problem that runs in your family.
If diabetes runs in the family, here are some questions to ask:
• When did your diabetes start?
• Do you know if other family members had diabetes? Did they have other health problems?
• How are you managing or treating your diabetes (for example: medication, lifestyle choices, regular tests)?
You may have an increased risk of getting a health problem if your family has:
• Health problems that occur at an earlier age than expected (10 to 20 years before most people get the problem)
• The same health problem in more than one close family member, a health problem that does not usually affect a certain gender (for example, breast cancer in a male family member)
• Certain combinations of health problems within a family (for example, breast and ovarian cancer or heart disease and diabetes)
If you are worried about your family health history, talk to your doctor. He or she can explain your risk and help you make a choice about tests that can detect problems early.
Even for families with an increased risk, steps can be taken to lower the chance of getting the health problem.
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.