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Holiday gatherings: A suitable time to learn family health history


As families gather during the holiday season, this is a perfect time to learn about one’s family health history alongside grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. [/caption]When new patients come into a medical practice, one of the sets of questions physicians ask is about one’s family history of illness and disease. This is valuable information in helping to formulate a healthcare plan for a patient. The number of people who have no knowledge as to what illnesses run in their family is quite astonishing. These are patients, who are not adopted and have the ability and familial connections to be able to ask relatives about family health histories. Some of my patients have told me they are unable to get family medical history because older family members refuse to discuss such matters. Even today, there are occasions where privacy is so tightly held that people truly have been forbidden to know the health history of a relative. To this day, many people have no earthly idea what their family members died of and why.

Obtaining health histories of relatives may not be easy but it is important to try. The conversation may not flow as briskly as the stories and jokes about the family’s past escapades, but remember, the health information you acquire will be beneficial to the entire family.

The holiday season is the perfect time for families to sit down and ask about past illnesses in your family’s health history. Ask your grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and even cousins.

The adage that knowledge is power is quite appropriate here. If you are aware of the illnesses or conditions that run in your family, this gives you an opportunity to look at yourself and strive to prevent them from happening to you. Look at your lifestyle and make the appropriate changes in order to avoid or minimize potential health problems.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) knows how important this brain trust of health information is for a family and has set up a wonderful site you can use to help. The site is called My Family Health Portrait. The site is full of information on how to begin gathering health information on relatives, who to interview, what questions to ask and a place to store the information that can be accessed by your family.

Questions they suggest include finding out if family members have had illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Have there been any serious diseases such as cancer or have there been any strokes? They also suggest recording the age at which a family member was diagnosed with a condition. It is important to record date of death, the cause of death and the person’s age.

Once this health information is gathered, record this history in a notebook and on the My Family Health Portrait. Make sure your family members are given a copy or are allowed to view the information online.

Use this information to be proactive in your own healthcare. Work with your healthcare provider to create a plan to help you and other family members live a healthier lifestyle. Such a plan will help keep the genes which lead to disease in check. You deserve to know what is in your family history so your life as well as your life’s story can be the best it can be.

Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at