If you’ve been to the doctor’s office recently, you’ve probably filled out a medical history form asking if you or anyone in your family suffers from a long list of illnesses and conditions. This might seem like an unnecessary step, but being familiar with your family’s medical history is actually an important factor in overall wellness.
Even if you have a clean bill of health, it’s always a good idea to be aware of family illnesses and conditions. Here are a few reasons to get to know your family medical history a little better.
1. Catch illnesses sooner
If your family has a history of cancer or other serious illness, the sooner you find warning signs, the better. Important screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies can help you discover illnesses in early stages, and thus be better equipped to handle the disease. And if you’re at higher risk to develop a serious condition, you will need to perform screening tests more often than your peers.
For example, breast cancer deaths have decreased 1.3 percent per year, likely due to preventive screenings. If you’re more likely to develop breast cancer, you should be screened earlier than the recommended age of 50 for most women.
2. Combat preventable diseases
Another reason to become familiar with your family medical history is to take steps to combat preventable diseases. Conditions such as type two diabetes, heart disease, and stroke can be highly preventable, and if your family has a history of these illnesses, you should be taking extra precautions.
Some common lifestyle changes for at-risk patients include more frequent exercise, changes to diet, and getting adequate sleep.
3. Find the right life insurance coverage
Finding the right life insurance coverage can be tricky if you have a history of medical illness. Preexisting conditions like high blood pressure, epilepsy, and even depression can result in higher premiums, or denial of coverage. By becoming familiar with your family’s medical history you can rule out certain factors that could get in the way of coverage, and know what to expect if you are likely to develop a condition later on.
The good news is, if you do suffer from a preexisting condition, or are more likely to be denied traditional coverage, most life insurance companies offer supplemental coverage like accidental death and dismemberment.
4. Get the most out of your primary care
Having a knowledge of family medical issues can help you get the most out of your primary care. One reason doctors have you fill out those lengthy forms is to make sure you’re getting the treatment you need. If you’re more likely to develop a condition, be sure to come to doctor’s visits with questions about screenings and preventive care. Your primary care provider can also refer you to a number of specialists for things like skin cancer screenings, kidney health, gastrointestinal issues, and mental health.
5. Pass on the knowledge
By becoming familiar with your family medical history, you can contribute to the health and wellness of future generations as well. Make a record of the health issues you and your immediate family face in a personal journal or online database so that others can benefit from your knowledge.
Plus, aside from being medically beneficial, learning about your ancestors and heritage can be exciting and enlightening. Many people who suffer from chronic illnesses may never speak freely about their experience, but knowing they dealt with difficult issues adds to their character.
Genealogy resources like Ancestry.com and 23andMe can also be beneficial in finding out more about your family medical history. You can create an account, build a family tree, and make notes for future generations.
How to find out more about your family’s medical history
The best way to find out more about your family’s health is to ask them questions face to face. It might not seem like the most natural topic of small talk at the family reunion this summer, but asking questions about health can be extremely beneficial.
If they are living, speak to your siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The more immediate the family connection, the more likely you are to share the risk of developing similar health issues. Just remember to be respectful if it seems like a touchy subject for some family members.
If you are unable to speak to your family, or if your immediate family members are deceased, look for resources like journals, family letters, and even county medical records.
Whether you’re completely healthy, or dealing with a number of health concerns, it’s always a good idea to re-familiarize yourself with your family’s medical history. The next time you fill out a new patient form, take a closer look at that long list of health conditions. You might find something you hadn’t noticed before.