The importance of a family medical history

April, Archive, Month

In many cases, looking at the past can benefit your future health.

It may feel like an interview, but a family medical history carries a deep importance to a physician’s ability to thoroughly provide for a patient’s overall health.

A family medical history is just that: a family’s medical history, including chronic conditions, cardiovascular conditions, if anyone has had a heart attack, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancers.

And the patient can benefit. Given the hereditary nature of many health conditions, a family medical history gives physicians a better understanding of which conditions their patients may be at an increased risk for developing.

“Our aim is to always work collaboratively with our patients and guide them along as they progress through their health,” said Dr. Blerta Gaqi, a family physician with McLaren Oakland. “Working with a complete family medical history and learning more about where the patient has come from is incredibly advantageous to help us determine where the patient is going.”

What to look for, and how far back to go

A complete family medical history should include at least three generations — the patient, their parents and grandparents, but it should also include siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and anyone in the family tree who was known to have had a significant health condition.

The reason for this is, in addition to having common genetics, families often also share common lifestyles and environments.

Knowing this history helps physicians recommend certain lifestyle changes, health screenings or other measures to aid in avoiding future health issues.

What to know

Talk to relatives and take note of any significant or chronic health conditions.

These would be chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as occurrences of heart attacks, strokes and cancers.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to get specific. Some points to consider would be:

  • At what age did these conditions occur?
  • Are there common conditions among multiple family members?
  • Did a condition lead to another, more serious condition? How did it progress?