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All in the family: Look to your clan for important health clues

Your smile, your voice, the way you walk—you inherited some of those traits as sure as the sun shines. Unfortunately, you probably inherited a predisposition to certain medical conditions, too. But don’t wait till you get sick to find out what they are. Putting together a family medical history now will give you a preventive edge. Just follow these simple steps:

  • Start with your parents. Ask them about serious but preventable conditions first. Is there any cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression or alcoholism in your family?
    Note any genetic diseases such as Huntington’s disease, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs disease. And find out about any unusual illnesses or premature deaths in the family.
    Inquire about reproductive history, too. Does your family have a pattern of multiple births? Make note of documented miscarriages. When recording the information, be sure to include the individual’s age at the time of diagnosis.

  • Move on to other relatives. Interview your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, too.

  • Look it up. Death certificates are public documents, so you may want to go back several generations and discover your ancestors’ causes of death.

  • Organize the information. Put it into chart or “tree form” to make it easy to get an overall view of your family’s health history.

  • Make a copy for your healthcare provider. Ultimately, he or she will be best able to interpret the information you’ve gathered and plan your medical care accordingly.

  • Distribute copies to family members. Allow other family members to benefit from your fact finding.

  • Update it and save it. If possible, store your family medical history on a computer disk, so you’ll be able to update it easily. Finally, store it with other important documents.