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give-your-family-history-a-checkupGenetic Illnesses and Health Factors

Your family history shouldn't just be a collection of stories about the language, customs, religion, values and behaviors of your ancestors. It should also include a history of the health environment and diseases that affected your progenitors, and through them, you. Giving your family history a checkup is important not only to understand what health issues may be in your family's past, but also to plan for your future and that of your children. 

Five Predictable Family Diseases

Collecting health information about your family history might be intimidating or even a little scary. Fortunately, there are online tools that can help you understand what it means for you. Start by having conversations with your older living relatives to find out what illnesses were common in your family. Include cause of death, age of death and environmental factors as you gather your facts. Environmental factors include behaviors such as smoking, drinking and exercise as well as living environment and exposure to harmful substances at work. For example, people living near by or downwind of nuclear weapons testing sites are at a much higher risk for certain cancers. 

Genetic Illnesses and Health Factors


Cancers that commonly run in families are: breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. Risk for breast cancer is higher if a close blood relative has had it, so consider both sides of your family history. The same is true of prostate cancer; the risk doubles if a blood relative has had it and increases for multiple cases. Family history and early screening are imperative in the fight against breast and prostate cancers. Not all cases of lung cancer are the result of smoking, but nearly 90% are related to smoking or secondhand smoke. This disease is important to consider for you family history mainly because family members usually share the same environmental health factors and behaviors. You can help break the chain of lung cancer in your family by staying away from cigarette smoke and protecting your family as well. 

Heart Diseases

Heart diseases that are often genetically linked are Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and high blood pressure. By knowing your risk and working with your health care practitioner you can greatly reduce your risk of being affected by these diseases, even if they run in your family. 


Asthma can run in families, though that doesn't mean that all will be affected alike. Understanding how asthma affects people in your family will help you know how to treat them. 


Diabetes is genetically and behaviorally linked. Type 1 Diabetes is when a person's body stops making its own insulin; this is the truly genetic form of diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes however typically results from lifestyle factors so it may be considered a family illness in that sense. 

Single Gene Disorders


Single Gene Disorders are important to be aware of because, while they can't be prevented, you can prepare for them or make reproductive choices for your future family. Single gene disorders are hard to predict because each gene has the possibility of mutating, and many people can carry the gene and pass them on without actually being affected by them. Cystic fibrosis is one common example.

Once you have gathered your family health history, share it with your family, particularly your children. Then, take it to you doctor for your next checkup and together you can assess your risk and plan any necessary lifestyle changes to live the healthiest and happiest you can.

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