Monday, March 29, 2010

Do You Have a Family Medical Tree?

Holidays provide opportunities for families to reconnect. These gatherings provide an opportunity to ask your relatives about your family's medical background. Even the Surgeon General encourages us to learn about health problems that run in families.

Why is this important? Statistics show that 30% of known diseases are genetically linked in families. You have inherited more from family members than your eye color or dimples. Knowing who has what or died from what can increase awareness and encourage early prevention and treatment. Those families who are genetically predisposed to certain diseases should talk with their health care providers about whether early screening is recommended.

Some genetically linked diseases and medical conditions are:
*colon cancer
*breast cancer
*heart disease
*ovarian cancer
*birth defects
*mental illness

You can start with a simple medical family tree since we share 1/4 of our genes with grandparents , 1/8 with great-grandparents and it goes even lower with relatives further down the family tree. However, for a more complete medical family tree profile the Mayo Clinic recommends including at least 3 generations:

Start by asking relatives for information but if you can't, death certificates may fill in the gaps. What should you ask? Some starter questions are:
* who had or died of what disease
* age when was the disease diagnosed
* sex of relative
* age at time of death
* how were they treated, was it successful
* ethnic background of relative
* signs and symptoms
* other: smoker, obesity, alcoholism

Your genes may cause or increase risk of certain diseases and medical conditions. Knowing your risk will help your health care provider to:
*assess your risk of certain diseases
*determine if family members should get genetic testing
*recommend lifestyle changes to reduce risk
*be aware of predisposition to certain diseases

Once you've gathered this information, create a record and share the information with your health care provider so it can be reviewed for family patterns and risks. One easy, safe internet tool to use is available through the U.S. Department of Health & Family Services. This tool helps to create your family medical tree and share this information with other family members.
Visit My Family Health Portrait Web Tool at:

For more information about family medical trees: article #51777 Your Medical Roots