When it comes to our health, it's easy to forget that many aspects are influenced by our genetics, but most of us don't spend that much time asking our parents much about medical issues they have gone through in the past. However, there are important things everyone should know about their family history, as it can not only help inform your doctor, but provide you with useful information in the future should anything happen. It's important to know what our parents and grandparents went through so we can take the proper steps to influence our genes the right way with healthy habits.
"Your family history is the closest blueprint we have to understand our genetic history," says Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams over email. "Perhaps, even more importantly, your family history points toward your epigenetics, the effect of the environment you were raised in ― from your food, to the emotional context of your family, to the nutrients and toxins you were exposed to in the environment.
Understanding what you are at risk for can help you make choices that assist in preventing the diseases that are common in your ancestors. If you're trying to get a comprehensive understanding of your health, you might want to consider these 10 important things that everyone should know about their family medical history.
"Alzheimer's has a genetic basis in the Apoe E genes," says Prudence Hall, M.D. over email. "When Apoe E 4’s are present, Alzheimer's disease is increased." By knowing your genetic status, you can modify the expression of your genes by making good lifestyle choices, such as eating well and engaging in activities that strengthen your brain.
2. Breast Cancer
Breast cancer be genetic and can be seen in a family history. "The BRCA 1 and 2 are genes that increase breast cancer by up to 50 percent," says Hall. "Multiple family members with breast cancer may indicate the presence of these genes." Doing genetic testing to see if you have the BRCA gene can help you take preventative measures against getting breast cancer.
3. Heart Disease
"Having first degree relatives who have suffered from cardiovascular disease can increase ones likelihood of developing it," says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, M.D., M.S. over email. "Since heart disease remains a leading cause of death in the US, it really becomes essential to let your doctor know if you have a strong family history so that proper measures can be taken for prevention, early detection, and treatment."
Having a family history of diabetes places you at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Knowing you are at risk can help you prevent or delay type 2 diabetes by making healthy lifestyle choices such as eating well and remaining active.
5. Mother's Age Of Menopause
Your mother's age of menopause may seem irrelevant, but it can actually help predict your fertility. According to research from the journal Human Reproduction, AMH and AFC hormone levels (which indicate ovarian reserve) fall quicker in women whose mothers had an early menopause, in contrast to women whose mothers had a late menopause.
6. Mental Illness
It's important to know your family's history of mental illness, including mood disorders. "Mental illness can run in families," says Dr. Jennifer Caudle over email. "If you have a family history of depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric conditions, be sure to tell your doctor."
If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you too are more likely to have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genetic factors can play a role in high cholesterol, heart disease, and other related conditions, but your risk for high cholesterol can increase even more when combined with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise or a poor diet.
8. Blood Clotting
"Blood clotting disorders can also be genetic," says Hall. "If you carry the genes, omega-3 fish oil and taking care to move and exercise can block blood clots from happening. Knowing your genes helps us to know what needs to be done for prevention."
9. Substance Abuse
"This may not seem important, but if you have a family history of drug or alcohol abuse, you should tell your doctor as well," says Caudle. Research shows that approximately 40 to 60 percent of the risk for developing an Alcohol Use Disorder can be accounted for by genetic factors, and the numbers can be even higher for other types of substance abuse such as nicotine or cocaine according to Psychology Today.
10. Rheumatological Diseases
"If anyone has autoimmune (like Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis) or rheumatologic conditions in your family, this is very important to note," says Caudle. "Again, there can be a genetic predisposition for some of these conditions, and it will be helpful for your doctor to know if any of these conditions run in your family."
The more you know about your family history, the better prepared you can be to tackle your own health.
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