Protect your health and the health of future generations by understanding your family’s genealogy

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(Good Things Utah) – Dr. Steven Richardson, Family Practice Physician, Optum Primary Care/Sandy joined the show to talk about genealogy and what it means for your health.

Many of us enjoy researching and sharing our genealogy. We note marriages, births, and deaths, among other important historical elements but it’s also good to add to our understanding key information about our family’s health from generation to generation.

Collecting your family health history can be an important way to protect not only our own personal health but also our children and grandchildren by understanding potential disease risk factors. A family health history is a complete record of diseases or medical conditions that may run in your family.

Family gatherings are a great time to get a complete picture of your family history, either by discussing known conditions or reviewing health records. Some important questions include:

  • How old were you when you, or the family member being discussed, were diagnosed?
  • Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, or more serious such as stroke?
  • Do you have information about your family’s ancestors?

When you collect your family’s genetic health history it’s important to consider a few things. While you cannot change your genetics, you can adopt healthy lifestyle habits and behaviors that may be able to prevent or reduce your risk of disease in the future. For example:

  • Eliminating tobacco use
  • Eating healthier
  • Participating in regular physical exercise

In addition, sharing your family health history with your health care provider can help them decide which screenings you may need and how soon.

Here’s an exam depending on your risk, your provider may recommend that you receive mammography earlier than usual or recommend you receive genetic testing or hereditary cancer counseling especially if a relative was diagnosed under the age of 50. It’s important to document the information that you find.

Write the data down and make sure to update it over time. Make sure to tell your family if you are diagnosed with a chronic disease or illness so that it can be documented for future generations. Make sure family history is shared and talk to your health care provider about it

Just because someone in your family has a chronic condition or disease does not mean that you will. There are certain lifestyle habits that can potentially reduce your risk of getting certain diseases. Your provider can work with you to incorporate them into your daily life.

If you are thinking about having a baby or are pregnant, knowing that your family history may include birth defects, developmental disabilities, or genetic diseases, can help give your baby a positive, healthy start to life.

Knowing these types of genetic or historical possibilities early can help find and address potential issues as soon as possible. For example, current recommendations state that all women should be offered carrier screening for cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy and should also be checked for hemoglobinopathies, such as sickle cell and thalassemia.

Some health care providers may recommend genetic carrier screening, which checks if you are a carrier for some diseases that are more common in your family or racial or ethnic group. 2

If you already have children, understanding your family’s health history is an important part of keeping your child healthy. Giving your health care provider a full picture of your health history can help to catch conditions or diseases that your child may show early symptoms or signs of. If your child has an increased risk for certain diseases, your provider may suggest certain screenings, as some genetic diseases may become obvious in childhood.

In addition, children who are at greater risk for chronic diseases can benefit from learning healthy lifestyle habits early. Eating healthy and exercising regularly are two great ways to start and might help delay or prevent chronic diseases. You can also make notes of this yourself, add it to genealogy charts, or use a variety of digital tools

One of these tools is the My Family Health Portrait on the CDC website. The website helps you create your own family health history – you provide your health information to build a drawing of your family tree and a chart of your family health history. Both the chart and the drawing can be printed and shared with your family members and your primary care physician.

Learn more by visiting My Family Health Portrait or goto Optum Utah for more info.


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