Thanksgiving is National Family Health History Day!
With the holiday season fast approaching in the US, many of us are looking forward to celebrating by spending quality time with family. But besides enjoying turkey dinners and holiday sales, did you also know that Thanksgiving is a great time to gather a family health history?
In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day. This information is very useful for your health care providers to know what medical conditions you may be at risk for based on your family history, and how to better manage your care to reduce the risk of developing those conditions. With multiple generations usually gathered in one place to celebrate in a relaxed atmosphere, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to gather health information from many relatives at once.
Why is it important?
There are many health conditions that can be inherited or passed down in a family. If a close relative develops a health condition such as colon cancer, there is a chance that they may carry a genetic change or mutation that put them at an increased risk for cancer, which you could have also possibly inherited. If your doctors know about this family history, there are preventative measures that may be taken to possibly prevent you from developing that same health condition in the future
How do I gather it?
Ask your family members about their general health and any chronic health conditions they may have had (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, thyroid issues, autoimmune diseases, hypertension, etc.).
There is some specific information about the family history related to cancer that would be helpful for your health care providers to know, such as:
- Specific cancers diagnosed in the family
- Ages at diagnosis
- Ages at death and cause (if applicable)
- Any treatments they received
- Medications they may be taking
- Information about any genetic testing that may have been performed
Whom do I include?
Information about your closest blood relatives will be most helpful because they share much of the same genetic information as you. This includes:
- Aunts and uncles
- First cousins
What do I do with this information once it’s gathered?
- Share it with your health care providers so that they can provide a risk assessment and make medical recommendations
- Share this information with other family members
- Update it as you learn more information
The US Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services have published an online tool called My Family Health Portrait to make it easier to collect and store a family health history. Once the information is filled in, you can save the information in both a family tree and table format to share with others!
Online version: https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/
Lauren Gima is a second year student in the Master’s Program in Genetic Counseling at Northwestern University. She will graduate in March 2017 with experience in cancer, prenatal, and pediatric genetic counseling.
She has a background in research regarding inflammatory bowel disease and is currently working on her thesis project exploring healthcare providers’ interactions with FAP and Lynch syndrome patients. Originally from Southern California,
Lauren is always looking for the next great restaurant to try and enjoys hiking and swimming with her dog, Riley.
Kendra Fromme, a budding genetic counselor, also from Northwestern, is conducting a research study on fertility preservation. Please click here for the link to the study! Please feel free to contact her with any questions. Thank you!
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