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Teach a Family History Health Lesson on Thanksgiving Day

November 16, 2017

Family History Thanksgiving Day is one of the rare occasions you may have everyone in the family in the same room at the same time. That’s why the U.S. Surgeon General made Thanksgiving Day “National Family History Day” in 2004. It’s a chance for you and your family to talk about the diseases and health conditions that run in your family.

By discussing and documenting your own family health history, you’re taking the first step to living a longer, healthier life. Your family history can tell you a lot about what health problems you may encounter. By checking into your past, you will have a better gauge of what the future may hold.

So here’s how you can jump start the conversation about family history at your dinner table this Thanksgiving.

Who to Ask About Your Family History

When you sit down at the dinner table, you will want to start with your closest relatives. These include your:

  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Aunts and uncles

Your first-degree relatives are a good place to start. A first-degree relative is a family member who shares about 50 percent of their genes with you — so, mom and dad or brother and sis.

What Your Family History Can Reveal

You probably noticed some of the things you’ve inherited from your parents or grandparents. The shape of your nose, the color of your eyes, that dimple in your chin— just to name a few. Unfortunately, those who are closest to us also are responsible for passing down common conditions like:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke
  • Some cancers

But by knowing which diseases and conditions your parents and grandparents had, you can learn about them and find out what you can do to decrease your risk.

What Else Family History Can Tell You

The genes you’ve inherited can’t be changed, but documenting your family health history may tip you off to major health issues you’re at risk of developing. Things like:

  • Certain combinations of diseases within your family
  • Diseases that occur at an earlier-than-expected age
  • Disease in more than one close relative
  • Disease that does not typically affect a specific gender (for example, breast cancer in a male)

Family health history also can help your doctor decide if you should start screening tests for certain diseases earlier. For example, if you have a parent or sibling with breast cancer, your doctor might recommend starting mammography screening earlier.

Family History and Pregnancy

If you’re hoping to have a family of your own some day, learning your parents’ family history can give your baby a good start. Before you get pregnant, you can find out if your family has a history of infertility or miscarriages. Just be sure to talk to both sides of the family.

If you are pregnant, your family history may expose birth defects or developmental disabilities that run in the family. If you know your baby is more likely to have one of these conditions you can talk to your doctor about how to address them early.

How to Track Your Family History

If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, or what to ask your family members, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a family health history checklist on its website. You also can use a web-based tool the Surgeon General developed to record your family history. Just remember to share all of the information you collect with your doctor and to update your information as your family grows.

And if you need help coming up with your Thanksgiving menu you can check out the North Ohio Heart | Ohio Medical Group free holiday cookbook for healthy recipes.