Health Conditions, Family History

Family Health History: The Questions You Should Be Asking Your Loved Ones

Eye color and height aren’t the only traits that can run in the family—it’s possible to also inherit a higher risk for certain illnesses from relatives. Not all diseases are related to genetics, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you may be more likely to suffer from cancer, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease if someone in your family has had it.

That’s why understanding family health history is so important. Knowing if your grandmother had breast cancer or your father has high cholesterol can help you and your doctor determine your risk for these conditions. If your risk is higher due to genetics, you can be proactive about prevention and screenings to help catch any issues as early as possible.

To get a good grasp on family health history, you’ll need to gather information about your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and children. Here are some of the questions you’ll want to ask:

  • Do you have any chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.)?
  • How old were you when you were diagnosed?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with a serious illness such as Alzheimer’s, breast cancer or dementia? When was that?
  • How have these illnesses been treated?
  • If a family member has passed away, what did they die from and how old were they?

Asking your family these questions can be a big help, but the exchange may sometimes seem awkward. People can be sensitive about their personal health and feel uncomfortable discussing their own medical issues. That’s why it’s important to explain why you’re gathering the information. By communicating your efforts to live a healthier life and limit family-related risk factors, relatives may be more willing to share these kinds of details.

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