While it may seem like a time-consuming task when you see a new doctor, completing your medical history is actually quite important. You may think this info sits dormant on a computer file, but doctors ask for family medical history for a number of important reasons. This is true especially for your primary care physician or for a specialist. Some questions on the family medical history sheet can point toward a predisposition to certain diseases. If you don’t know or are unsure of your family history, a great time to ask questions is during holiday gatherings.
The Importance of Family History
When it comes to family history, doctors look especially closely at the prevalence of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer. If you have an immediate family member who suffered from any of those problems (or from related ones, such as high blood pressure), it raises a red flag to your doctor, who can then order specific tests or have you monitored more closely. It’s important to find out as much as you can about your family history, giving your physician the clearest picture possible to help take care of your health.
Key Questions to Ask
The family history chart in every physician’s office reads a little differently, especially if you’re seeing a specialist. For example, an ophthalmologist may ask about blindness or other eye disorders in the family. Generally speaking, however, you want to focus on and pinpoint certain areas, particularly if you don’t have a lot of information. If your immediate family (grandparents, parents, siblings, and children) have been diagnosed with any of the following, make sure you let your physician know:
- Mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia)
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease/hypertension
Doctors also may ask about osteoporosis, anemia, or sickle cell disease, so if you have this information as well, it’s helpful to complete your chart.
If you’re short on information or simply don’t know much about your family history, the holidays are an ideal time to ask some members of your family to fill in the missing information. In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States has named Thanksgiving as National Family History Day. This is an opportune time to ask if a family member has had a particular condition or to ask other family members for information about those who have passed on.
If it’s not possible to ask your family these questions, there are a few ways to try to piece together your medical family tree on your own.
- Search public records. You can search public record databases or a genealogy site to help determine cause of death and other information for family members. Birth certificates and other documents may also be helpful.
- Ask for old documents. Perhaps some of your family members have old letters or newspaper clippings (such as obituaries) that are handy. Sometimes secrets to family history can be found within these pages.
- Search for biological parents. For those who are adopted, it is a good idea to search for birth parents to help piece your family history together.
So what do doctors do with this information? Depending on the circumstance, doctors may want to do more invasive testing (if you have an immediate family history of colon cancer, for example). Or, your doctor may want to perform genetic testing to see if you’re carrying a certain gene (as in breast cancer). Because prevention and early detection are so important, especially when it comes to cancer, doctors can use this information to help keep you healthy. All of us at TrustCare want you to have a wonderful holiday season. Keep your health top of mind as you visit family. Stop by one of our convenient locations if you need to Feel Better Faster during the holidays.