Genetics helps to explain why we are unique. It also explains why you have your mother’s eyes, or your father’s hair. We often resemble our family members since we share common physical traits with them. This can also be true of certain health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Factors and choices that we make, such as what we eat, whether or not we smoke, and even the environment in which we work certainly influences our health. However, learning your family health history enables you to assess your potential risks, and make smart choices to take control of your health.
How do you learn about your Family Health History?
1. Start by speaking to your family
Chose an environment that is conducive to conversation and sharing stories, such as a family gathering like a holiday dinner or wedding. Find out:
- If they have, or have had, any health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, mental disorders or dementia.
- If they have any physical differences, such as a hole in the heart.
- Approximately what age the condition occurred.
- Important distinctions that are particular to each individual. (You may learn that your grandfather had lung cancer, but that he was exposed to certain chemicals in his workplace that may have contributed to his illness)
- Other interesting and important aspects of your family history such as ancestry, origin and culture.
2. Record your family health history information
Start with your immediate family, yourself and your children, your siblings and parents.
- Move on to your aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents on both sides of the family.
- Detail any health conditions and physical differences for each person, and the age at which it occurred.
- Note the distinctions that are particular to each individual.
- Record each person’s age and date of birth.
- If they are deceased, the age at which they passed away.
Now that you have the information, what do you do with it?
3. Share your information with your Family Health Nurse
It will be recorded in your secure electronic health record, and shared with your care team who will assess your health risks. The information will also be synched to your Carebook™ profile for you to access from anywhere.
Some people fear that they can’t change their genetics, so there is no point in knowing. In reality, understanding your family history actually enables you and your healthcare team to make a plan to look after your health. This may mean making different lifestyle choices, starting regular screenings for a particular condition earlier than you normally would, or speaking with a health professional about your options for genetic testing.
Family health history is an invaluable tool for maintaining your health. It is also a great opportunity to preserve your family’s story, for this generation and for future generations to come.
Speak to a genetics professional and make smart choices to pre-empt illness and maintain your health.