Healthy History

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How to build a family health portrait and predict potential health risks

High blood pressure runs in your family; your mom suffers from depression; and your great grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 45. It seems at some point in your life you could get at least one of these illnesses.

Or will you?

Knowing your family medical history can help identify your risk for potential health problems. But, remember, your family medical history doesn’t determine your healthy destiny.

It runs in the family

Women with a family history of breast cancer are at an increased risk of developing the disease. But only 10 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

And while doctors consider genetic risk factors when determining your risk for disease, other factors also play key roles in developing high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Those factors are lifestyle, diet and exercise.

image health history map

Moderate weight loss and exercise can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes among adults with an increased risk of developing diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Developing cancer is also affected by tobacco use, diet, weight, sun exposure, immunizations, and regular medical checkups, according to the Mayo Clinic.

To get a better understanding of your family medical history and your risk for potential health problems, you need to build a family health portrait.

But how do you build a family health portrait? What information do you need?

Mapping your family health portrait

To trace your family health history, gather details about your relatives’ health histories and map that information on a family health tree.

Knowing your family’s lifestyle, health problems, onset of symptoms, and prescribed medications can create a window into your family’s medical history. Tracing your family medical history might seem daunting, but it’s a process that can help your family doctor evaluate you and your family’s potential risk for disease.