Family’s Health History

Family’s Health History

Overview

by Theresa Lou Bowick BSN,RN

African American military family

 

Your family history may be one of the greatest infl uences on your risk of developing chronic health problems like heart disease,
stroke, diabetes, or cancer. Even though you cannot change your genetic makeup, knowing your family history can help you reduce your risk of developing certain health problems. Family members share traits, lifestyles and habits. Just like hair texture
and academic ability, runs in families, so does the risk for heart disease, cancer, depression and substance abuse. Individuals with a family history of disease may gain the most from lifestyle changes and screening tests. Of course, you can’t change your
genes, but you can change unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating habits, poor sleep habits, inactivity and smoking. Adopting a healthier lifestyle may reduce your risk for diseases that run in your family. Screening tests (such as mammograms and colorectal cancer screening) can detect cancers at an early stage when they are most treatable. The American Cancer Society reports that African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group, in the
United States, for most cancers. Screening tests can also detect disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can be treated to reduce the chance, or prevent you from developing heart disease or stroke. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that African American men are more likely to have high blood pressure than White, Hispanic overall, or Mexican American men and more likely to be identifi ed by their physician as having high blood pressure. In addition, only 30% had their high blood pressure under control. These are all good reasons to learn your family health history.
Did you know that a recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important? However, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family’s health history. In order to learn your family’s health history, you need to ask questions. Family gathering such as reunions, weddings and funerals present a great opportunity to collect information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces, and nephews. Use the following questions to guide your information gathering.