November 6, 2018
While there is understandable excitement about genome mapping, there is still much discovery and testing to be done to determine its efficacy in healthcare today. At-home DNA kits may be entertaining and perhaps revealing, but time and energy are better spent gathering and recording thorough family medical history.
There is evidence-based research demonstrating a link between six major health concerns and family history. Patients with close family members who have had coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer or ovarian cancer are at higher risk of developing the conditions. Parents, grandparents, and siblings represent the strongest link; aunts and uncles are secondary links.
Melanoma, arthritis, hearing loss, and other ailments may be related to family history as well. With genetic testing, an extensive pattern of matching genetic markers must be identified in order to determine certain risk. Family medical history identifies actual occurrences, even those that may have been influenced by non-genetic factors like environment or access to health care.
As impressive as modern knowledge regarding DNA is, there are still questions and missing components of heritability that are far from being understood. There are even some studies that implicate unexplained genetic patterns could offset the risk of known markers. In a recent MIT article, this was referred to as “Genome Dark Matter”. So genetic testing is not for everyone, as a recent article in Experience Life points out.
The bottom line? A significant review of family medical history gives patients and medical professionals much more reliable information about health risks.
Discover and Document
The CDC strongly advocates that individuals should make a concerted effort to track down family medical history information, document it, and share it with loved ones. It’s not as easy as it might seem to gather medical information about grandparents and other relatives. Decades ago, families were not always open about medical conditions and did not realize how important that information would be to future generations.
Some physicians conduct family medical history assessments to alert patients to potential connections, as well as to the lifestyle changes that can help prevent disease. Patients need to be proactive about sharing family medical history with their doctors. They should have that information gathered and documented in one location – like the ICmed application or another program – in order to access it easily.
Colorectal cancer, breast or ovarian cancer, and diabetes are all diseases that can be treated early if detected through screening, which your doctor should recommend depending on your family medical history.
There are also lifestyle changes you can make that will substantially reduce your risk. Controlling cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar along with exercising and avoiding smoking greatly reduces any patient’s likelihood of disease.
Even if there is a strong family history of a particular disease or condition, like Alzheimer’s, proactive attention to our health has a significant impact. According to HelpGuide.org, for example, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50%. If your family history doubles your risk, that means that exercise has the potential to bring your risk down to normal levels!
Simply put, family medical history is critically important to know to protect your future health, and your families future health.
Original posted 12/15/2016