Most people know they can reduce their risk for many health conditions by eating healthy, getting enough exercise, not smoking and reducing stress. But there’s another factor that plays a role in the development of many diseases – family history.
Although you can’t choose your relatives or the diseases that run in your family, understanding your family health history can make a difference in lowering your risk for many health conditions.
Chances are at least one chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes, runs in your family. When a close family member has one of these diseases, it’s more likely you’ll develop the condition. But you can reduce your risk through preventive testing or lifestyle changes.
To learn more about your family’s health history, start by having a conversation with your relatives about the different health conditions people may have had. Make sure you include your siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents on both sides of the family. You can also review family medical records and death certificates, but depending on how old the records are, they may not be complete.
When talking with your family, you’ll want to discuss your ethnic background as some health conditions are more prevalent in certain ethnicities. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is more common in those of German or Russian heritage.
Even if you’re unable to sit down with your family due to situations such as adoption or a sperm or egg donation, today’s medical advancements make it possible to learn more about your health history. Ancestry DNA provides a cheap and accessible way to learn more about your genetics and may provide useful information about your health history.
Once you’ve compiled information about your family’s health history, be sure to share the information with your primary care physician. He or she can assess your disease risk based on your family history and also recommend relevant screenings and lifestyle changes to help you stay healthy for years to come.
To find a primary care physician near you, reach out to your health insurance provider.