How family gatherings can improve your health

Wellness
Family celebrating Christmas

When you visit your physician, he or she isn’t only interested in knowing your medical history but that of your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and more. And for good reason: Many diseases and conditions run along family lines.
Not only do family members share genes, they also tend to share certain lifestyle habits that can influence health.
“The medical history of family members can be one of the strongest tools for you and your physician,” says Dr. James Turek, a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Garden City. “By sharing this information with your physician, your doctor can help you make the best decisions for your health.”
For example, if there’s a family history of premature heart disease then a physician may want to start looking for signs earlier than normal, he says.

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Unfortunately, all too often family medical history isn’t written down so you may not be sure what there is to know. And it’s important to capture the information when you have the chance because it can be lost to time as family members pass away or forget.
That’s why the U.S. Surgeon General started the Family Health History Initiative, which encourages people to take advantage of the holidays when family is gathered together and start making notes.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has even created a simple-to-use online tool where you can start tracking this information. If you’d prefer to record your family health history by hand, there are worksheets available, too.
The most important thing is to get organized before the family gathering begins, so make sure to note who is coming and write down a few questions to ask them.
Be sure to ask about diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, dementia and Alzheimer’s, kidney disease and osteoporosis. You’ll also want to ask for details such as what age symptoms started and whether surgery was involved or medication was prescribed.
Make sure to note the age of family members and information about their lifestyle choices such as whether they smoke or how often they exercise.
Finally, put it all together in a notebook or clipped into a binder, something that you can take to your next physician’s appointment and pass on to loved ones.
“It might take a little work to record your family medical history, but it can be vital for your own health,” Dr. Turek says. “So take the time to write it down and share it with family members because it can help inform their health decisions, too.”

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