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Focus On...Know Your Family Health History with Edward Solis, MD, Assistant Director of Clinical Operations, Internal Medicine

November 6, 2020
Family History

You can inherit eye color, hair color, and your general appearance from your family. You can also inherit health issues. Knowing your family’s health history can help your doctor better diagnose potential health issues so you stay healthy.

Family and genetics play a big part in our health. Your environment does too — things like nutrition and exercise. But you inherit so much of your health through your family tree.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled a comprehensive website that outlines a range of topics relating to family health history. And the US Surgeon General has created My Family Health Portrait. It’s a simple template that lets you fill in family members and various health conditions they’ve had. The template lets you:

  • Enter your family health history
  • Learn about your risk for conditions that run in families
  • Update your history over time, and
  • Print it to share with your doctor

If you don’t want to create it online, keep a simple binder of information, or write the information on index cards. However, you do it, knowing and sharing your family health history with your doctor will help shape the care you receive. It will also prepare you and other family members for conditions you might need to track.

People remember certain details about family members, but mainly the things that stand out, like a sudden or unexpected death. But knowing the age someone was diagnosed with an illness, for instance can help you prepare for the likelihood of disease.

The upcoming holiday season is a great opportunity to learn about your family health history. While you may not be able to get together in person this year, you can still have a conversation with your family members about health issues.

You might find it more comfortable to have these conversations over telephone or video instead of in person. Like with telehealth, it provides a little distance that might make it easier to divulge information or discuss potentially sad memories.

One key point is to ask about mental health issues, too. We are often quick to discuss physical conditions, but the stigma surrounding mental health creates a roadblock where there shouldn’t be one. Be sure to include mental health issues in your family health history. Bipolar disease, schizophrenia, and other mental health conditions are also inherited illnesses that can impact you or your family.