Have a Holiday Heart to Heart
Posted 11/16/2016 by UHBlog
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It runs in the family.” Unfortunately, that’s true for many serious health conditions. Although you’re not sure to get a disease like cancer just because your mother or father had it, a family history does increase your risk for developing some conditions.
That’s why it’s wise to learn about your family’s medical history and share it with your doctor, says family medicine specialist Elenee Raudenbush, DO. And an ideal time to have these kinds of family conversations may be at the holiday season.
“Families spend time together during the holidays, so it’s a convenient time for everybody to sit down and talk, especially with relatives who live far away from each other,” she says.
When you and your doctor are aware of medical conditions that your parents, grandparents and even aunts and uncles had, you have the opportunity to pay more attention to them and schedule appropriate diagnostic screenings. For example, doctors normally suggest a colonoscopy to test for signs of colon cancer when a patient is 50 years old. But patients with a family member who had the disease might be screened at an earlier age.
“With most diseases, early detection improves the chances of successful treatment,” Dr. Raudenbush says. “Knowing that a parent or a sibling had cancer and at what age gives us the advantage of knowing what to be on the alert for.”
A comprehensive family medical history should be prioritized as follows:
- Histories of first-degree relatives - your parents and siblings - are the most valuable to know about.
- The next most valuable group contains your parents' siblings and parents.
- The third group is your cousins - or children of your parents' siblings.
When it comes to discussing their health, some people aren’t as open as others are.
“People who aren’t comfortable talking about their medical history should understand that honesty about these things is beneficial for everybody and could save somebody’s life,” Dr. Raudenbush says.
When you have this discussion, be sure to take comprehensive notes to keep for your records and to share with your doctor. Dr. Raudenbush says drawing up a family tree, with medical conditions listed beneath each member, is a good way to organize your family’s medical tendencies.
When taking inventory, you should consider major diseases like cancer and diabetes, but also some other conditions that many people might not think about.
“High blood pressure and high cholesterol are good to know about, and diseases like gout and osteoporosis also can have a genetic basis,” she says. “It’s best to be as comprehensive as possible.”
It’s never too early to have a discussion about your family medical history, Dr. Raudenbush says.
“It’s beneficial to learn the health history of your parents and other relatives while you’re still young – in your 30s – because it helps to get a head start on looking at diseases that we would normally begin to screen for later on,” she says. “The earlier your doctor knows about these things, the better.”
Elenee Raudenbush, DO is a family medicine specialist at University Hospitals Premier Family Physicians. You can request an appointment with Dr. Raudenbush or any doctor online.