Holiday gatherings a chance to learn family health history

Family gatherings can provide the opportunity for more than just catching up on what’s happened for the year.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services encourages discussing chronic illnesses and other health problems that can run in families when together for such events as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

“If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure,” said Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS chief medical executive.

Family health history is a medical history about a person’s living and deceased relatives and should include background about a person’s ethnicity.

Using this information, health care providers can evaluate the risks for many disorders and chronic adult onset conditions such as hereditary breast, ovarian and colorectal cancers.

Common diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes can run in families. In Michigan, approximately one in 10 women has a significant family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. Family members share genes, environment, lifestyles and behaviors, the combination of which can determine the risk of common diseases, the MDHHS advised.

Take time to learn about your family’s health history and then be sure to share this information with your health care provider, who can use that to evaluate potential health risks and recommend appropriate screening or treatment.

A variety of materials and tools are available online on the right questions to ask when collecting such family health information, including:

— MDHHS family health history fact cards, which can help guide the conversation.

— The Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait tool, which can help individuals organize, print and share family history information with a physician.

— The American Cancer Society’s genetics and cancer website.