If your uncle died as a result of a heart attack, or your grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, pay close attention. Knowing your extended family history can provide important clues for your ongoing health. In fact, many physicians highly recommend that people make a health chart of their family tree listing relatives on both sides: mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. On that family tree list health conditions you are aware of for each individual and the cause of death for relatives, particularly those who died at younger ages. If you don’t have this information, begin gathering it by asking relatives who are approachable and informed. Start by asking such questions as these:
1. Who in the family was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness?
2. At what age did they receive that diagnosis?
3. Were any family members diabetics?
4. Is there a history of heart disease in the family?
5. Has there been a diagnosis of mental illness? If so, what was the condition and who has been diagnosed with it?
6. Have family members been struggling with other issues such as asthma, high blood pressure, alcoholism, or other substance abuse?
Don’t feel that you’ve completed your task once you know this information. That’s an important step, but it’s only the beginning. After you identify patterns in your family’s medical history, find ways to break the cycle. Learn what lifestyle changes you can make to avoid receiving the common diagnoses in your family. In addition, be sure to share family medical history information with your personal physician.