Did you know that Thanksgiving Day is also National Family Health History Day? It’s important because family health history matters a lot. So just like you’re planning to carve the turkey, or other centerpiece that goes with Thanksgiving dinner, carve out a block of time – before or after the meal – for family health history taking. The U.S. Surgeon General started National Family History Day in 2004 to encourage families to share their health histories, because they often have a great effect on people’s health.
Why Family Health History is So Important
- Some diseases run in families, like diabetes, hypertension (or high blood pressure), heart disease, cancer and stroke, and when they occur in families, there is a greater risk that some other family members will develop them.
- Family members often share lifestyles, environments and genes that, together, sometimes increase their risk of developing the same, or similar, health problems.
- A person with a close relative with a chronic disease often has a higher risk of developing that disease disease than a person who is not a close relative.
Although many people know that their family health history has a strong relationship to their health, most Americans have never tried to collect and write down their family’s health history. Here’s how to get started.
Talk to Your Family
Write down the names of blood relatives you need to include in your history, and you can prepare your list before the holiday.
- The most important relatives for your family health history list are your parents, brothers and sisters, and your children.
- Next, you can add grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and any half-brothers or half-sisters.
- It is also helpful to include great aunts and uncles, as well as cousins.
Key Questions to ask
Among the questions to ask are:
- Has anyone in the family had any chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension (or high blood pressure), heart disease, stroke or cancer?
- Has anyone had any other serious disease?
- How old was the affected person when he or she developed the disease or diseases?
Also ask questions about other relatives, both living and deceased, such as:
- What geographic area did family relatives come from?
- What diseases did deceased relatives have?
- How old were they when they died?
- What caused their deaths?
Be sure all the information is recorded.
Write the information down, and get used to updating it each year. Once all the basic family health information has been recorded, doing annual updates won’t take long. Another way to make it easier to record the family health history is to have the questions written down in advance, as well as possible answers. That way, the information gained can be easily written down, or checked off.
Share the Family Health History Information with Your Doctor
Family health history can give you an idea of your risk for common diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. Talk to your doctor about any of those diseases in your family, and any other diseases that exist in the family that you might be concerned about. A very important reason for talking to your doctor is for him or her to recommend ways to reduce your risk of developing the disease or diseases, and to increase control of those that you have developed.
Family health history isn’t just important for your health—it’s also important for the health of children in the family.
So enjoy your Thanksgiving – including things you learn, record and use about your family’s health – to help you live a longer, healthier, and happier life.
And, remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!