One of the most important things you can do for your health is to take the time to create a Medical Family Tree. Many diseases and disorders run in families, and the more you know about what could be lurking in your genes, the better chance you have of making choices that could affect your health in a very positive way.
A great time to start putting together your medical family tree is during the holidays and/or summer. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer time reunions allow for time to speak with relatives whom you do not get the chance to see very often. You may want to plan ahead some specific questions to ask your relatives about their health, as well as the health of earlier ancestors.
Start by making it clear that you are working on a project, a medical family history, and the information you compile can help the entire family. Relatives who are hesitant to reveal medical information about themselves, their spouse, or their parents, may be more comfortable speaking about this topic when they realize that it is for the greater good of the entire family. Don’t forget to make notes about all of the medical conditions that you have, as well.
Older relatives are very likely going to be able to provide you with a lot of information. They should be aware of their own medical conditions. It is very likely that they know what killed off their own parents, and their siblings. In general, the older a person gets, the more likely that person is going to feel comfortable discussing details related to their own health, as well as the health of others. Younger relatives may become embarrassed when asked to discuss something as personal as whatever health conditions they happen to have.
What should you be asking, specifically? First, write down the name of a relative, and note whether that person is male or female. What was their birthdate? Does that person have cancer? If so, you need to know what organ the cancer started in. Other things to ask about include if the person has: heart disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, kidney disease, or any form of mental illness. Do they have a history of high blood pressure, or high cholesterol? Have they had a stroke? Did they lose their hearing or vision at a young age? If female, has this person experienced a miscarriage or a stillbirth?
Ask if the person is a smoker, or was a smoker. If so, for how long? Do they, or have they in the past, used alcohol excessively? Have they had a problem with their weight, or with obesity? What is their diet like? Do they get regular exercise? You may also want to note the ethnicity of the person. When gathering information about deceased relatives, note their date of death, the cause, and their age.
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