Americans celebrate Thanksgiving today - it is also the sixth annual National Family History Day, declared by the US Surgeon General.
Everyone should know their family medical history. The holidays are great times to get this project started, to collect information from the gathered generations and learn what they know about their own parents and grandparents.
Knowing as much of this information as possible may help assist children and grandchildren to be aware of family risks and recommendations. It will help you when you talk to your own doctor or other healthcare professional.
Most of us have been to a new doctor whose first questions for us concern what diseases or conditions are in our family. They ask about diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, cancer, allergies. They might ask what your grandparents suffered from and when they died (very young, a long life?).
I would hazard a guess that we may know what our parents suffered from, and perhaps the medical conditions of our grandparents, but how many of us know much more than that? To learn more, talk to your relatives about their own ancestors. Write down what they say, even if they are using old medical terms. There are websites that provide current terminology for the old names, search for "old medical terms."
Genetic research shows that a really good medical history should show specific diagnoses and ages of onset for each disease or condition for first- and second-degree relatives and even in some third-degree relatives. But how many of us can hand this over to our doctors?
This information helps our doctors assess our risks and provide recommendations to minimize those risks.
There's even a website called HealthHeritage that will help you keep track of your family's health pedigree and chart. Its researchers, at the University of Virginia, expect that the site will both encourage families to build helpful family histories and that other family members will understand the value of maintaining their own medical records.
On another issue, The American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) encourages everyone to know their family medical history. Visit the ACMG newsroom for links to more resources on genetics and health or to find a genetics professional.
To help family history researchers gain a better understanding of their family health history, why it is so important and how to begin talking about it with family members, ACMG has just released a YouTube video entitled "ACMG Genetics & Your Health."
The video offers interviews with genetic experts to inform viewers how genetic discoveries lead to better health.
The first video in the series, "Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing," provided information about the current trend of publicly-available genetic tests. Find both videos at the ACMG Channel.
Enjoy the holiday! If you aren't too stuffed from all the delicious food, write in and tell us what family traditions are present in your own celebrations. Do you talk about family history? Do you prepare recipes handed down through the generations? Let us know.