Family Matters: Compiling A Medical History Without Tears

Think of this a variation on the old family tree theme.  Instead of a lot of ‘married’s’ and ‘begats’,  however, you will be lining up who had what disease or condition and when and how that might relate to you and yours.  Sort of.

Your family medical history is a record of diseases or illness and medical conditions that affected family members.  This information might well provide valuable insight into conditions that are common in the family, so along with Aunt Anna’s date of birth and death and information about her education, career, marriage and children,  details about her health are also noted.

Each of your parents contributes one half of your genetic profile.  Inherited genes may cause certain medical conditions or increase your risk of developing those medical conditions.  A thorough family medical history could help you and your doctor establish a sound  health care plan tailored to your particular situation.  It cannot predict the future, of course; family history provides information that your medical professional interprets in order to assess risk.  It also allows him or her to suggest other courses of action that will lower that risk (diet, exercise, lifestyle modifications, and so on).

Your doctor uses your family history in order to:

  • Assess your risk of certain diseases
  • Recommend treatments
  • Suggest changes in diet or lifestyle to reduce your risk of disease
  • Determine the type and frequency of screening tests
  • Decide which diagnostic tests to order
  • Determine whether you or a family member is a candidate for a specific genetic test
  • Identify a condition that might not otherwise be suggested or considered
  • Assess the risk of passing conditions on to your children
  • Identify any other family members who are at risk of developing a specific disease or condition
Next time, we will go over how to collect this information and still keep peace in the family.  Remember, medical histories involve surprisingly powerful emotions and many are more than a little reluctant to share such intimate details.  Reviewing medical issues often revives painful memories and evokes feelings of shame and guilt and sorrow.  You will need both tact and persistence, here.  Heavy on the tact.  It should help to emphasize that this history will serve the whole family and is not about blaming anyone for anything –  but it may still be tough going.  


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