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Know Your Family Health Story

family health history imageBy Elizabeth A. Havey of Boomer Highway

Mothers/fathers, sisters/brothers and a variety of wonderful combinations make up families—yours and mine.  We live together and grow together.  Often we form wonderful memories of day-to-day life that sustains us in times of struggle and provides laughter when we gather for birthdays and weddings.

And though we may share hair color and skin tone, the shape of our noses or the ability to sing or play hockey, we also share a biological heritage that can sometimes mean a propensity for a certain cancer, or the possibility of inheriting a familial disease.  Though family get-togethers often mean sharing and planning for the future of children and grandchildren, they should also provide an opportunity for remembering the past.

The reason: in our mobile society where every day more blended families are formed and those families often live thousands of miles from relatives, it’s become extremely important for parents and grandparents to share their “family health story.”

Family health ‘story’ comes to play in your own diagnosis

When a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, her family health story immediately came into play. Being an RN she knew that her mother’s double mastectomy, and her two sister’s experience with breast cancer had to mean something in her DNA was now presenting her with this life struggle.

Karen Heffernan, PA, notes that history, the HX on a patient’s chart, helps the provider get a clear picture of the patient’s health history and often serves to provide a faster diagnosis in a crisis situation.  So when you are asked to fill out that health history—do it for your future health.

Major items providers (physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners) want to know about your health story include:

  • If you are adopted; my friend who has ovarian cancer always followed recommended health measures because she knew her family health story;
  • If you or your child is not totally biologically yours and your husband or partner’s but was conceived with a donor egg or donor sperm or both;
  • Familial disease history—diabetes, cancer of all types, autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis and MS, high cholesterol or high triglycerides, myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke.


Knowing the medical history of your two parents and four grandparents will help you take care of your own health.  My father died of a heart attack at a very young age, 45, so my brothers and I have always been careful about cholesterol and blood pressure—making sure we get checkups when needed and making exercise a part of our lives.

So if you are eager to protect you and your family’s future, ask questions about your ancestors past: how long they lived, how they died, what diseases they might have dealt with during their lives.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions, get answers and write them down.  The link below provides an excellent guide to know how to write your’s and your family members’ health story.

Note that the following diseases and conditions can run in families:

Alzheimer’s disease or dementia



Birth defects

Cancer (breast, colon, lung, prostate, ovarian, and other cancers)



Heart disease or sudden heart attack

High blood pressure and high cholesterol

Pregnancy losses, stillbirths, and miscarriages

Stroke or blood clots

Putting your family story together

Here’s how to get started:

  • Have a family meeting with your grandparents or parents;
  • Ask them about their own health history as well as that of their parents and grandparents;
  • Write it all down;
  • Note that the sex, ethnic background, weight, diet as well as smoking, drinking and exercise habits of each of your ancestors can affect their health story;
  • Share your health story with your siblings, cousins and other relatives;
  • If there is a serious disease that runs in your family, find out if you can be tested to see if you will develop the disease or are a carrier of it.


Getting all this information isn’t easy and sometimes will reveal things that will challenge you.  Note that in families there are so many variables.  But knowing your health story is better than having you or your child develop a condition or disease that your grandmother might have died from.  Knowing the facts of how that illness affected her might help you know what choices to make should someone in your family develop the same condition.

Many thanks to Beth for sharing her insights www.bethhavey.wordpress.com

Photo credit: photostock


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