8 glasses of water…10,000 steps…2,000 calories, we know these numbers by heart and understand that the choices we make in our own lives affect our health but how many of us consider the role our family’s health history plays in our own wellbeing? Building a Family Health History Record helps you and your family to determine the diseases and other medical conditions, as well as the lifestyle habits and living environments that existed in your family. By knowing these details, you can reduce the risk of developing these diseases and illnesses in the future, not only for yourself but also for your siblings, children, and grandchildren.
The first step to documenting your family’s health history, is by creating your family tree. Start with your “first degree” blood relatives such as parents, brothers and sisters, and children, and then go ahead and add as many of your ‘second-degree’ relatives, (nephews, nieces, step-brothers and sisters, grandparents, and aunts and uncles, etc…you get the idea!) as you can. Believe it or not, facebook is a great place to start for this, and you can also check to see if you have any existing family trees, baby books, or charts. Information from first-degree relatives is the most useful though the more comprehensive your record is the better your chances of staying healthy will be. Once you’ve listed all of your relatives, begin by asking your first degree relatives the following:
• What is your date of birth?
• Do you suffer from any chronic conditions (things like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or asthma)?
• Have you had any other serious illnesses (things like cancer and stroke)?
If a family member has suffered from a chronic condition or serious illness ask the following:
• What age were you when this illness first developed?
Additional questions you should ask include the following:
• Which country or countries did our family originate from? (Determining this helps to identify certain diseases/conditions that are associated with certain population groups, diets, and lifestyles)
• Has anyone in our family had birth defects, learning difficulties, or other developmental problems such as Down’s syndrome?
• Did our late parents and grandparents have any serious conditions or illnesses? How did they die and how old were they?
Finding the right time to talk is important when it comes to family health. It’s up to you to decide when you think is best. For some this might be family get-togethers, during a holiday or reunion, or perhaps more privately, in person, by telephone, or by email.
Although many of us may not like to ask our relatives such personal questions, remember that it’s in the interests of the health of your family. Of course, it’s likely that your relatives will want to know why you’re asking questions about their health. You can explain that knowing about previous health conditions and lifestyles can help family members to make changes in their own lives to lower the risk of becoming ill. You can also explain that you will share the family’s health history with them once the record is completed and you can encourage them to create their own.