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Monday, May 17, 2021

Give the gift of better health: Holidays offer opportunity to gather family health history

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It’s that time of year again. People are decking the halls, setting up Christmas trees and spending more time with their families. The holiday season offers a unique opportunity to give the greatest gift of all to loved ones: the gift of better health. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using family gatherings to gain information regarding family health history. Family health history is a record of the diseases and health conditions in a family that doctors can use to develop a more complete picture of a patient’s health and risk factors for disease. Knowing and acting on the information and passing that information on to relatives can keep family members healthy, too. 

Dr. Tonye Teme, a cardiologist from Indianapolis, says the opportunities the holidays provide to talk to relatives should not be overlooked.

“It’s very important, because a lot of times people don’t have access to their loved ones. During the holidays that often changes. Having everyone together is the perfect time to get caught up on what medical problems might run in your family,” said Teme. 

Many family members share not only genes, but also habits, behaviors and environments that can impact a person’s overall health. The CDC recommends asking what chronic diseases a person has and the age at which a person was diagnosed. It also recommends studying one’s ancestry and the causes of deaths of deceased relatives. 

Teme says asking about the medications family members are taking is one of the best ways to learn what may run in the family.

“When you ask basic questions like what medical problems do you have or what do you see your doctor for, they may say they have no problems, but they are taking 10 different medications. Ask what meds your family members are taking, and learn what they are taking them for,” said Teme.

The next step is documenting the gathered information. The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps has an online tool to collect a family health history. My Family Health Portrait, which is available at familyhistory.hhs.gov, is an internet-based tool that makes it easy to record and share a family’s health history.

“All you basically need to do is write it down and present it to your physician,” Teme said. “Create a family tree of who has what. Then the next step is just distributing that information to family members so that they have it as well. If you know you have a genetic disposition to certain problems, you can get early screenings or make a change in your diet.”

Teme says that regardless of family history, it’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle.  

“You can negate the bad effects of genes by leading a healthy lifestyle and vice versa,” she said. “It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get it, but preventative measures such as early screenings and a healthy lifestyle will decrease your risk.”

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