Health Risks & Family History

Posted by on Nov 18, 2012 in Health Signals |

We don’t choose our blood relatives but, in some cases, our future health may depend on knowing more about them! Our genetic make-up may increase our risk or pre-dispose us to developing chronic conditions or diseases. Knowing our family’s health history may help us take steps today to prolong both our years of life…and add life to our years!
Lifestyle choices have a major effect on our health, but tuning into our
family health history helps us know our risk of developing chronic
conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer. Identifying these risks early on can spur us to take action to reduce them.
According to a recent article published by Manulife Financial, here are some things to look for in your family’s health history:
    • several closely related individuals affected with the same or related conditions
    • a common disease that occurred at an earlier age than expected (i.e., 10 to 20 years before most people would get the disease)
    • sudden death in someone who seemed healthy
    • an individual or couple with three or more pregnancy losses
    • a disease that does not usually affect a certain gender (e.g., breast cancer in a male)
    • certain combinations of diseases within a family (e.g., breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes)
To put the risks in perspective, the article also suggests looking at the
lifestyle habits of family members who have the same disease. This could be a key factor in increasing or decreasing your risk, depending on whether you share or avoid the same lifestyle habits.
Your whole family can benefit from you taking the lead on compiling your family’s health history. Include grandparents, parents and their immediate families as well as your own siblings, their children and yours, in these discussions.  Consult older family members who may recall information about relatives that you may never have known.
Here are some things you can ask about:
    • A list of health problems
    • How long family members lived, and what they died from
    • Pregnancy losses or birth defects
    • Ethnicity (some conditions are more common in certain groups)
    • Lifestyle habits that may have contributed to longevity, early illness or premature death
Share what you find out with your family doctor. Our family history is
usually only one of several risk factors. Work with your doctor to help
assess risks both for you and younger family members, and put together a plan for reducing those risks.
(c) ElderWise Inc., 2012. You have permission to reprint any ElderWise INFO, provided you do so in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s go-to place for boomers with aging parents and for anyone who wants to do “age-smart” planning. For more information, visit
Ready to compile your own or your family’s health history? Learn more about our interactive workbook, My Passport to Health and Wellness.



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