Do you know how your grandparents died? How about your great-grandparents? Knowing your family’s health history is important when it comes to risks and early screenings. Despite the importance, few people can go back generations and state whether family members had certain diseases.
A family health portrait helps solidify this information. It may not be as helpful to you as it will your great-grandchildren. The actions you and your mom take now can help future generations.
What Information is Included?
Some health conditions can be easier to treat if they’re caught early. A colonoscopy before the age of 50 might be important if colorectal cancer has affected several generations. The same is true of breast cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Things that should be included in a family health portrait are incidences of cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. You also should know things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and mental illness. If there are genetic health conditions, record those too.
Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition where the body stores too much iron. It leads to liver damage and other health issues. It’s also commonly found in entire families. If you learn a grandmother had it, it’s likely her brothers and sisters and even children also had it. Drawing blood to reduce iron levels is key to preventing liver damage. Knowing it’s a possible health issue is important.
How Far Back Should You Go?
The Surgeon General has a convenient online form you can fill out for as many generations as possible. In the Family Health History form, you’ll enter health conditions and disease for each person and add the age of diagnosis if you know it.
Be as thorough as you can. Decades from now, medical advancements may have made advanced testing for some medical conditions possible. Those generations would benefit if they knew their great-great-great-grandparents had that disease.
You may want to talk to your mom and dad to see what they know. If you still have living grandparents, they could be of help, too. Even if you don’t know the exact ages or details, basic information is better than no information at all.
Keep this family medical history on hand for anyone who cares for your parents. If your dad has a stroke, it will be helpful if his medical POA or caregivers know if he’s had surgery or is allergic to any medications or substances. With the family medical history stored on a phone, it makes it easy for the POA and any caregivers to pull up information in a stressful time and make sure doctors are aware.