Bloodlines: Knowing Your Family History Just Might Save Your Life

As we gather with generations of family from near and far this holiday season  to eat our favorite foods and catch up on what’s happening in each others lives, perhaps we should also be digging into our family health history.

Here are a few questions to get you started: Do you know what your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins died from?  Has anyone seen copies of their death certificates?  Did anyone in your family die or was anyone diagnosed with a disease or health condition before age 50?  Are there any trends in your family where several relatives were diagnosed with heart issues, cancer, developmental delays or other genetically linked conditions?

I am so fortunate at my age to still have two living parents who hold a wealth of information regarding our family’s history.  Every time I visit with them, I learn something new about our family tree, but I need to delve deeper into my family’s medical history for the sake of my health,  the health or my children, and future generations.  I already know I’ve inherited some diseases from my dad, like glaucoma  at an early age.  My awareness of his early onset of this eye disease made me cognizant of my risk factor, and reminded me to discuss my dad’s diagnosis with my doctors while in my thirties.  My sisters have been diagnosed with other disorders that appear to be genetic.

When we go to the doctor, we are typically asked to complete a family medical history form. Why not get the answers to some of these questions while the family is all gathered watching football or playing board games after a delicious high calorie dinner?  The more we learn about our genetic background, the more doctors and patients will be to provide accurate diagnosis, prognosis and treatments.

We should also consider seeking the help of a genetic counselor as a preventive measure.  Genetic counselors encounter and manage many diseases such a cardiovascular, prenatal, pediatric and neurological complaints.  Their work has helped to prove there are different  types of genetic links to conditions like cardiomyopathy, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease.  To locate a genetic counselor in your area, go to

Be thankful for family this holiday season, and remember to return home not just with a full belly, and a bag of leftovers, but also more knowledgable about your family’s medical history.  It could save your life, or the lives of your children.

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