The winter holidays are the perfect time to catch up with your immediate and distant family to talk about current events, sports, and what has transpired in your lives over the past year. Perhaps it’s not a thought that’s crossed your mind, but it’s also an excellent time to have a slightly serious conversation–the one about medical history. As patients age, it’s more and more critical to have as clear of a picture as possible when it comes to family history, specifically when it comes to preventing diseases such as colorectal cancer. Read on to learn about the questions you should ask each other while you’re watching the Thanksgiving football game.

Why Is a Medical “Family Tree” Important?

There are myriad reasons to know your family’s medical history. At the very least, history can give physicians an adequate look into your proclivity to be diagnosed with certain diseases, such as colorectal cancer and breast cancer. Just because an immediate family member had a certain illness isn’t a guarantee you will as well, but it gives doctors important pieces of information, allowing them to run tests. Depending on the history and what the physician is looking for, it can also help doctors place early prevention treatment systems into place. Family history is also a determining factor whether you should get specific genetic testing. Genetic testing isn’t just important to your health–it’s also an inside look as to whether your children (or yet unborn children) are at risk of developing a particular disease.

Diseases to Pinpoint

There is quite a laundry list of medical conditions, both physical and mental, that exist as a diagnosis. Don’t worry if you can’t track down every last bit of information. It can be very challenging if you’re part of a family that already has several deceased members, or who live far apart. This is another reason why family gatherings are a perfect time to ask questions.

You should concentrate on your immediate family first. This includes your parents, siblings, grandparents, and children. However, if you can collect information on aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins, do so. Depending on the type of condition, this could be important information. Diseases to keep track of for your physician include:

  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack/hypertension
  • High blood pressure
  • Dementia
  • Mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Alcoholism/addiction

Your doctor may have questions about other conditions, such as blindness or hemophilia, so obtain as much information as you can.

Gathering Information

As stated, it’s a perfect idea to bring a checklist to your holiday get-together to try to gather some information. However, you may be met with a problem. It’s unlikely that your family will offer opposition as you ask them medical questions, but they may simply not remember. If you’re part of a family where the matriarch and patriarch have passed on, sometimes it can be difficult to learn this important information. In this case, there are a few things you can do to try to collect some info.

Get as much information as you can, but also ask your family members for documents that may have in a safe or lying around the house. These would include documents such as birth and death certificates, but also things that are clipped, such as saved obituaries or old letters. Sometimes the best key to uncovering old information is to find it written down, as letters were a primary form of communication decades ago.

If you still find yourself coming up short, you can try to search public records either by using the library or a genealogy site. Those who are adopted may have a tough time finding information as well. You may want to consider a biological parent search if only to reveal details about your family history. If you need more information on how screenings change due to family history, make an appointment today with Dr. Sameer Islam, MD. Certain tests can help you find problems such as colorectal cancer before the disease progresses.

Dr Sameer Islam Cta Photo


Serving the Greater West Texas Area

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