A popular hobby in recent years is genealogy, or doing research to find information about one’s ancestors, for example, when they were born and died, where they lived, who they married, and children that they had. Some folks can trace their heritage back to the family member who first came to this country generations ago. There is another kind of family history that is important to discover, and that is the family medical history.

A popular hobby in recent years is genealogy, or doing research to find information about one’s ancestors, for example, when they were born and died, where they lived, who they married, and children that they had. Some folks can trace their heritage back to the family member who first came to this country generations ago. There is another kind of family history that is important to discover, and that is the family medical history.

Knowing your family medical history and sharing it with your health care provider can help in predicting your risk of developing illnesses like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Just like the dimples or the red hair that come down through the genes, so do certain diseases, or at least the risk of contracting those specific conditions.

Another interesting connection between family members that can affect health is lifestyle. If you grew up in a house hold where someone smoked, your chances of smoking yourself, or contracting lung disease could be higher than someone who grew up without that influence on their health. Conversely, if a family spent considerable time being active and emphasized a healthy diet, the children in that family have a higher likelihood of continuing those healthy behaviors into adulthood.

Knowing your family health history can actually lower your risk of contracting some chronic diseases. For example, if several male relatives have had heart attacks before the age of 50, there is a higher chance that the same fate may await you if you are a male. But there are also things you can do to decrease your risk, like adhering to healthy lifestyle choices. If you know your risk is high for a certain disease because of your family history, it might serve as a motivator to actually follow through on those healthy behaviors.

Another benefit to knowing your family health history is the ability to obtain certain screening tests for early detection of disease. Finding disease early, before symptoms appear, can mean better health in the long run.

So how do you go about gathering the necessary information to construct a family health history? Some of it you know, just from growing up with these people, or from conversations to which you were paying attention. Other information may be more of a challenge to obtain. Older relatives are a good place to start, gleaning as much information as they can remember about their ancestors, as well as other relatives who you may not even know existed. Key points to ask about are diseases that occur at an earlier age than expected, the same disease in more than one close relative, or disease that does not usually affect a certain gender, like breast cancer in a male. Certain combinations of diseases within a family can also be present, for example, breast and ovarian cancer together, or diabetes accompanied by heart disease.

The holidays are often a time when families get together to celebrate. Make that the time for collecting this information, and share it with your health care provider so you can have a clearer picture of what might lie ahead for you and your health.

Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at pmaxson@noyes-hospital.org or 585-335-4327.