Understanding Your Family Health History

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Thursday, November 23, 2023, is not only Thanksgiving, but it’s also recognized as National Family Health History Day. While the holiday season is all about celebrating and spending time with your loved ones, it can also serve as a perfect opportunity to discuss health issues that affect family members. Thanksgiving Day was declared National Family Health History Day in 2004 by the U.S. Surgeon General to encourage families to discuss their health. Family health history is an essential part of routine medical care and, by documenting your family’s history, you are proactively taking steps to a healthier future.

Nova Vita Solutions

Once you have collected your family health history, our team of healthcare professionals can help you manage any risks or concerns. Our lab panels can help you understand your body’s nutrient levels and assess levels like glucose, lipid panels, hormones, and more! We’ll interpret your results and formulate a plan that targets your needs. Our weight loss program and hormone pellets can help target risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, if your family has a history of breast cancer, we regularly partner with HerScan, which conducts breast ultrasound screenings and can detect cancers early on at a discounted rate.

What is Family Health History?

Family health history is a record of all of the diseases and health conditions within your family. Certain health conditions may be passed down because of shared genes. If a particular chronic condition runs in your family, you may have inherited factors that put you at risk. Other shared factors with your family may include your taste in food, your exercise habits, and often similar environments and lifestyles. Family history includes a range of genetic factors, all of which may affect your health.

Why is Family Health History Important?

By noticing patterns of diseases or other health concerns among relatives, healthcare professionals can determine whether future family members may be at an increased risk of developing a particular condition. Common health conditions that may be passed down may include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. A family health history can also provide insight into the risk of rare single-gene disorders. Mutations in a single gene may cause cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease.

It’s important to note that having relatives with a certain health condition does not mean you will 100% develop the condition. Additionally, you can still be at risk of developing a disorder with no family history of it. Several factors influence your risk of diseases, including your genes, physical environment, activity level, weight, alcohol consumption, and several other factors.

Knowing your family health history allows you to take steps to reduce your risk. Healthcare professionals may recommend more frequent screenings (such as mammography or colonoscopy) starting at an earlier age if you have a family history of certain cancers. Additionally, your doctor may encourage regular checkups or testing for a condition that runs in your family.

How To Collect Your Family Health History

Whether you know a little or a lot about your family health history, being in control of the information can help you take proactive steps toward protecting your health. To get a complete picture of your family’s health, you can discuss your family history in large gatherings (Thanksgiving or Christmas!). If possible, look at death certificates and family medical records. Record the information and include details about major medical conditions, cause and age of death, and age of disease diagnosis. Update the information regularly and share what you’ve learned with your relatives and doctor.

Below are some questions you can ask your relatives to better understand your family health history:

  • What medical conditions do you or your parents/siblings/aunts/uncles/grandparents have and when were they diagnosed?
  • Did anyone in your family have cancer? If so, what type of cancer and when were they diagnosed?
  • Has anyone in the family passed away at an especially young age? If so, what was the cause and age of death?
  • What is your family’s ancestry?

To easily keep track of this information, be sure to organize it and update it regularly. You can use a free web-based tool such as the Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portal to keep your information in one place and easily share this information with your doctor.

If You Are Adopted

If you are adopted or don’t know certain members of your family, it may be more difficult to obtain your family health history. Consider starting a report of your health history so your future family can easily assess their risks. You’ll play a role in helping your family be proactive about their health if you start with yours!

How to Be Proactive About Your Family Health History

While your genes are not controllable, you can control your habits and behaviors, such as smoking, not exercising, and poor eating habits. In many cases, proactive testing (blood sugar testing, mammograms, colorectal cancer screening, etc) can help detect early signs of disease so you can be proactive about your next steps. Additionally, healthy behavioral habits can play a role in significantly reducing the risk of diseases that run in your family.

Here’s what you should do if you have a family history of the following diseases:

Breast or Ovarian Cancer: If you have a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer, discuss with your doctor about when you should start mammography screening. While screening cannot prevent the cancer, it can help find the disease earlier on when it is easier to treat. The American Cancer Society recommends that women aged 45-54 should get mammograms done every year and then switch to every other year after the age of 55. However, if you have a family member with breast cancer, your doctor may suggest you get screened at an earlier age. Nova Vita Wellness Centers routinely sponsor HerScan breast ultrasound screenings that are capable of detecting cancers that cannot be found by mammography and physical exams alone. You can book your appointment online today.

Diabetes: If you have a close family member with type 2 diabetes, you and your other family members may have prediabetes and be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Most people with type 2 diabetes are adults, but more children are developing the disease. Talk to your doctor about the important steps you can take to prevent type 2 diabetes and reverse prediabetes. Obesity, high blood sugar,  and an imbalance in hormones may be factors. Nova Vita’s lab panels can test glucose, HbA1c, and other nutrient levels and develop a health plan based on your needs and health concerns. Our personalized medical weight loss program is tailored to each individual and can help reduce your risk of diabetes. Nova Vita also offers hormone pellets to promote the balance of hormones in men and women.

Heart Disease: If you have a family history of heart disease, there are ways you can live a heart-healthy life and lower your chances of getting heart disease. Some of the ways to live heart-healthy include eating a balanced diet (Read our article on How to Eat the Rainbow), maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, limiting your alcohol use, refraining from smoking, and routinely getting screened for any tests and taking medication your doctor recommends. Our lab panels that detect low nutrient levels, IV vitamin infusions that replenish low levels, and our weight management program are all great heart-healthy resources.

The Bottom Line

While you can’t change your family health history, being knowledgeable about it can help you take the right steps toward maximizing your health. Share your family health history with your primary care provider and healthcare professionals who will make healthcare recommendations. Share your health concerns with your relatives and keep your family’s information in a safe place for future reference and future generations. Nova Vita has the resources available to help you be in control of your health. Get in touch with us today to get started!


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