How to get to talk about your family’s health history at holiday gatherings

During holiday gatherings, family members who haven’t seen each other in a long time can catch up on how everyone’s been doing. You should also consider it an opportunity for the whole family to share a health update on relatives that will help everyone live a longer life.

Think of it as a family health history checklist.

“Family history is important because families share genetic traits,” said Dr. Rena Daiza at Henry Ford Health.

According to Daiza, those genetic traits can guide how doctors view your health.

“It’s most important to know diseases in first-degree relatives -- so what’s a first-degree relative? Parents, siblings, and children,” said Daiza.

But the health of every blood relative, from cousins to nieces and nephews, can say something about your health... take note of any medical history that comes up during family gathers, details may come out naturally, but if not, the discussion doesn’t need to be awkward.

“Just keep it simple. Be very honest about why you want to know the information, and you’ll be surprised by what you find out. As a primary care doctor, there are a few diseases that I really like to delve into with regard to family history,” explained Daiza.

Cancer and other diseases are some things to make a note of, also health conditions like stroke, early onset dementia, immune and autoimmune problems, as well as diseases with strong genetic components like sickle cell or cystic fibrosis.

“As much family history as you can gather is best. It is a factor that could be life-changing for patients,” said Daiza.

If you have a family tree drawn out -- it can be especially helpful to add health information to be shared for generations to come. You should include the medical issues we discussed, the age at which they appeared, and any specifics your doctor may have mentioned about whether the condition is more hereditary.

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.