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The Value of Knowing Your Family’s Health History

You may know your genealogy by heart but do you know everything there is to know about your family health history?

The US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin recently issued a statement emphasizing the value of family health history and urged Americans to take this opportunity of sharing family health history with the younger generation. According to her statement:

“While family health histories may seem old-fashioned, the truth is, the family health history is key to understanding your family’s unique genetic make-up and your individual disease risks. Knowing your family health history can help you actually prevent disease, or detect diseases, such as many forms of cancer, for early treatment. The information your family health history contains can help you and your doctor determine your personal risk.  This means two things:  you can tailor your lifestyle to reduce your health risks; and you can be more carefully screened for diseases where your risk is high.”

In order to help people document and pass on family health information, the Surgeon General’s office has come up with an online tool called My Family Health Portrait.

With this tool, you can

  • Enter your family health history.
  • Print your family health history to share with family or your health care worker.
  • Save your family health history so you can update it over time.

It also enables you to create diagrams and tables, save and print family health history as well as send copies to family members. The tool is run by Health Vault.

What I Learned About My Family’s Health History

I could only recall bits and pieces of my family health history and they seemed unimportant until history repeated itself. I never gave much thought about my mom’s health history until I had thyroidectomy 10 years ago. That’s when I remembered her having her thyroids taken out when I was a little girl.

And then there’s the twinning issue. If somebody asked me whether having twins run in my family, I always said “No”. Because no one told me until recently about my mom’s miscarriage of twins.

From my husband I also learned some details of his family’s health history. These two family histories are now merged to be my children’s history, and will be part of their children’s history someday. It is a great idea to put all these in electronic form for posterity.


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