Why your family medical history matters

Every one of us is unique, and it’s our genomes – an inherited set of cellular instructions that guide our bodies to grow into our distinct selves – that make us that way.

We all have a one-of-a-kind foundation inherited from our parents (and theirs before them) that influences everything from our body shape to how our organs and structures will develop. It’s what makes some people fast sprinters and others steady distance runners. Tall or short, brown-eyed or blue – it’s all because of our genes.

In the same manner, there are inherited genes that can influence the types of diseases one may be at greater or lesser risk of acquiring. A family medical history is comprised of three generations – siblings, parents and grandparents, also known as first-degree relatives. This includes paternal and maternal sides, as gene mutations and disease can be inherited from both. As such, family history is an informative genomic tool.

Why your family medical history matters

Family medical history is particularly significant when it comes to chronic diseases, as it plays a part in both prevention and health promotion. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, various types of cancer and other chronic diseases are more common in those whose parents, siblings and grandparents have had them.

For example, your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer nearly doubles if your mother had the disease, and your risk of having a heart attack is 67 percent greater if a parent aged fifty or older has had one.

So how can this information personalize your healthcare?

Even though you can’t change your genetic makeup, simply knowing your family medical history can help you reduce your risk of developing health problems. Many inherited diseases have avenues for prevention or early detection, leading to better and more effective options when your doctor and healthcare team know about your relative risk level.

Therefore, sharing your family medical history is an excellent way to optimize disease prevention. This information allows clinicians to assist you in making small behavioural and lifestyle changes that can result in better overall health outcomes.

For example, if a first-degree relative has Type 2 diabetes, your Copeman Healthcare team comprised of your physician, nurse, dietitian and kinesiologist, will put greater emphasis on managing elements of lifestyle that increase the risk of developing diabetes, such as weight, diet, exercise and blood sugar. There would also be increased cognizance about heart disease and other conditions that are more common if you develop diabetes.

A proper awareness of family history also supports early detection of disease, allowing clinicians to provide you with education and monitoring as soon as possible to optimize wellness.

Family medical history vs. lifestyle

The good news is that lifestyle factors such as a diet, exercise, smoking cessation and other factors are by far the biggest determinants of disease. Even if a condition like heart disease runs in your family, there is a lot you can do to break the pattern. For example, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of heart disease increases two to four times for those who smoke.

While some genes can lead to disease, for most people, a healthy lifestyle trumps inherited risk. And knowing your family disease history is just another way to take control and enhance your overall well-being.

Complete family medical history intakes are undertaken with a family health nurse during a Comprehensive Health Assessment at Copeman Healthcare. For more information, please visit www.copemanhealthcare.com/private-healthcare/health-assessments.