The risk of developing severe diseases can be reduced by implementing measures such as a healthy and balanced diet, regular exercise, avoiding stress, maintaining good sleep hygiene, avoiding drug and substance abuse, and going for regular medical checkups. However, certain health conditions can develop due to factors beyond our control. One such factor is Family Health History.
Family Health History
Individuals who have a family history of certain conditions are at risk of developing them later in life, even if they follow an active and healthy lifestyle. Certain services can help a person predict the onset of such disorders early and confirm whether genetics plays a role. Genetic counselling is an example of such a service. It is impossible to make modifications to an individual’s genes, but it is possible to reduce the risk of developing such conditions by:
- Adopting a healthy lifestyle
- Having regular, personalized full-body preventive health checkups
- Consulting the doctor regularly and following their guidance regarding next steps and follow-ups.
What are some medical conditions that may be associated with the family’s health history?
There are several medical conditions that can develop if they have a family history of occurrences related to it. These include:
- Congenital disabilities (for example, spina bifida or cleft lip)
- Cancer (breast, ovary, prostate, bowel/colon or skin)
- Genetic conditions (cystic fibrosis, hemophilia)
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Mental illness
- Pregnancy losses and stillbirths
- Thyroid disorders
What are the benefits of being aware of the family’s medical history?
A family’s medical history can help physicians identify the level of risk for certain medical conditions. Screening for diseases beforehand can help doctors take the necessary steps as early as possible to reduce the risk of progression. Physicians may also suggest lifestyle changes and medications that may help prevent the onset of these conditions.
Hence, it is recommended to have discussions with parents, grandparents, siblings, first-degree relatives, and other family members to be aware of any existing ailments in the family.
What information can one collect?
- Any major health condition(s) in the family tree
- The age a person was diagnosed with the condition
- Age at death, if the condition was fatal
- Ethnic or cultural background (some ethnicities have a greater risk of developing certain conditions)
- General lifestyle information (did the person smoke or work with harmful substances?)
- Have any close relatives (for example, first cousins) had children together?
Who is at risk due to a family medical history?
Every family is unique, and therefore, certain families are more prone to a type of disorder. Some factors that may indicate that the family is at higher risk of developing certain conditions include:
Several closely-related individuals with the same or related health conditions, for example:
- Breast and ovarian cancer
- Bowel/colon and endometrial cancer
- Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disorders
A health condition that has onset at an early age, for example:
- Breast or ovarian cancer before 50 years
- Bowel/colon cancer before 55 years
- Prostate cancer before 60 years
- Heart disease before 60 years
- The sudden death of someone who appeared healthy
- More than three miscarriages or stillbirths
- Medical conditions in children of parents who are closely related, for example, first cousins who married.
Steps physicians recommend in reducing these risks include maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, staying vigilant and regularly monitoring for symptoms to identify disease onset, and undergoing comprehensive, personalized health risk assessments via preventive health checks.
How can one protect themselves from developing disorders prevalent in the family?
Although we cannot alter the genetic profile, we can take certain steps towards building a healthy lifestyle, which includes: avoiding smoking, adhering to a healthy diet, staying well hydrated, getting proper sleep, avoiding stress, following an active lifestyle, maintaining mental wellness, and having regular physician consultations and full body checkups.
For individuals who have a family history of a medical condition, getting a regular, comprehensive, full-body checkup is vital in detecting early signs of a disorder. Such individuals should proactively join a preventive healthcare program.