As you and your loved ones gather for a reunion this summer, consider a unique family reunion idea ... something more important than trying to decipher Aunt Martha's macaroni salad recipe. Take this opportunity to share your family medical history with your relatives. The information you gather just may extend your life. And large family gatherings are the best place to amass the details, according to health officials.
"Knowing your family medical history can save your life," said Karen Brooks, a genetic counselor and assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
There's a reason doctors always ask about your family's health history. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many other disorders have genetic factors passed down through the generations. Knowing if your family has a history for any of these conditions allows you and your physician to take steps to prevent you from becoming part of an unwanted family tradition.
A survey cited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted that 96 percent of Americans believe knowing their family health history is important, but less than a third of Americans have gathered to discuss and write down those histories.
Reunions are a great place to start because family elders have a depth of knowledge about medical problems. Brooks suggests checking in with family members before a reunion to let them know you will be asking medical history questions. That way they can do a little research to jog their memories.
Here are some other tips:
--Start with the biggies -- major birth defects, cancer, stroke and cardiovascular problems. Discussion of disorders such as mental illness and learning disabilities might be a little touchier, but you should try to delve into those matters, too.
--Look at both sides of your family. If your reunion is almost exclusively members of your mother's side of the family, try to do the same thing at the next get-together of the folks in your father's family. Most diseases can be inherited from either side.
--Start with your immediate family and try to get at least three generations of information. Then build from that nucleus, creating a medical family tree. --Share the information once it's compiled. If someone in your family isn't interested, they can throw it away. It might be more detailed information that a doctor needs, but too much information is better than too little. --Don't stop after the initial information is compiled. Family medical histories, like families, grow through the years. One instance of a disease might not mean much. Health officials go by the 3-2-1 rule. It's worth special attention if three relatives on the same side of the family have had the same disorder, at least two of those are closely related (sibling, parent, child) or at least one was affected at a young age (before 50 for most cancers). "Yes to all three definitely warrants mentioning your family history to your health care provider," Brooks said. The health community began pushing for better family histories about a decade ago. With technological changes in recent years, experts have begun suggesting an alternative to the family reunion -- social networking communities such as Facebook. Another online related tool -- My Family Health Portrait -- can be found on the Health and Human Services site at familyhistory.hhs.gov. After you've gathered the family information, this tool guides you through the compilation of the family history and allows you to save it either to a secure Internet page or to your own computer hard drive. In the past, some families might have treated talk of mental illness as taboo or prudishly avoided talk about cancer involving sexual organs. Some of that reluctance has broken down in recent years, Brooks said. "I've had examples in my practice where a family member across the country had a genetic test done, found they had an inherited trait, and contacted a family member here," Brooks said. "Then they call me and say they want to come in and be tested for this trait." Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366 // var ranNum = Math.round(Math.random()*1000000); document.write('http://content.yellowbrix.com/images/content/cimage.nsp?ctype=full_story&story_id=147608015&id=thirdage&ip_id=McClatchy-Tribune+Business+News&source_id=The+State+%28Columbia%2C+S.C.%29&category=Family&random=' + (ranNum));// ]]>//