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“Do You Know Your Family Health History?”
Submitted by: LCDR Kathleen R. Manning
Were you ever asked questions by a health professional about your family health history and didn’t know what to answer? Are you concerned about certain health problems that run in your family? Many people have traced their ’family tree’ through genealogy, but few people have taken the time to review and write down their family’s medical history. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona started a national public health campaign called the U.S. Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative (http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/) to encourage all Americans to learn more about their family health history.
Why is one’s family health history important?
Not only do rare diseases such as hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, and cystic fibrosis run in families, but also common chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. By knowing one’s family history, people can choose healthier lifestyle habits to reduce their risk of certain chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. For example, someone who has a strong family history of colon cancer could choose more fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains to decrease their risk. Knowing their family health history can also encourage people to be screened for chronic diseases. For example, a woman who knows her mother or sister has had breast cancer may be more motivated to perform regular breast self exams and obtain regularly scheduled mammograms.
Why is it important to bring a written copy of one’s family health history to medical appointments?
A written copy of your family health history is a valuable screening tool for a health care provider. This screening tool can provide the health care provider with insight into possible increased risk of certain diseases. By taking a written copy of your family health history to medical appointments, you help your health care provider save time in the screening process, which expedites your health care provider’s assessment and planning of your health care. For example, if a Registered Dietitian knows that a patient has a family health history of type 2 diabetes and that the patient also has an elevated fasting blood glucose level and is obese, then he/she can readily work with the physician to determine the best course of action for the patient’s care to help prevent type 2 diabetes.
How can you learn more about your family health history?
Start by talking to your close family members about health problems that run in the family. To share more details, your family can work together to create a health history that can be used by the whole family. Check out https://familyhistory.hhs.gov to create a family health portrait. The “My Family Health Portrait” questionnaire can help you and your family organize health information. Be sure to take a printed copy to your health care provider visits. And, remember to update your family health portrait regularly -- it is only as current as you make it!
The series “Fit For Duty…Fit for Life!”, is a lifestyle-based column provided by the U.S. Public Health Service Dietitian/Nutritionist Professional Advisory Committee (D/N-PAC). Healthy lifestyle resources evaluated by the D/N-PAC and highlighted in this article are also accessible from the USPHS Dietitians and Nutritionists category Web site http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/`phsnutr/phsnutr.html. If you have related topics of interest that you would like to learn more about in future articles, contact CAPT Jean Makie at jean.makie@fda.hhs.gov".
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