Share Your Family Health History on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is National Family History Day.

Take time around the dinner table to learn about your family’s health history. These resource will make it easier to start conversations about chronic illnesses and your grandparents’ causes of death.

WAIT! Ask WHO? About WHAT?

Asking for information about major diseases and causes of death isn’t a typical holiday gift request, but conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes often run in families.

While not every Thanksgiving table looks the same, inherited genes from our parents, grandparents and other blood relatives is something that we all have in common as humans. (This health history recommendation may not apply to the trolls in the Thanksgiving celebration pictured below.)

" Thanksgiving at the Trolls" from flickr user floodllama: https://www.flickr.com/photos/38446022@N00/3064088118/in/photolist-5ELfDu-qgMer8-AXtwBN-pGkVcU-pVTkuM-qpJUKB-i2g91a-hXujNn-qdoCd5-8VSFYZ-uVtbZF-qhDjsL-pVXFDz-yLYeqX-aU4w2X-5VUHaP-DPWnp-qgETip-hYvzg3-sPhey-wBuNEm-w7ZrSH-piqrvE-dvpVzo-8X1Ax8-7saPHH-gzyLsS-aJZ5v4-9Bzu-ph5Sud-pipnjf-qgqeR2-qd6mBH-aK6DqD-5SwGhW-hWwYin-5EUv9F-4bxkwY-pY7E7M-pDDFHT-7i5zA1-qaP2qS-auc6g4-5EYBux-i2EzH6-6RDpJ-8W8A2Q-49QGEM-pgw4zL-pWoiVK CC by 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Photo credit: Flickr user floodlama

Tracing the illnesses of your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your health care practitioner predict your risk for specific disorders. It could suggest vital screening tests and treatments before any disease is evident. That’s why it’s so important to discuss your family’s health history.

Use the article “Creating a Family Health History” from NIHSeniorHealth to start the conversation with your family.

Prepare your Questions

According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative, among the questions to ask are:

  • Do you have any chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes?
  • Have you had any other serious illnesses, such as cancer or stroke?
  • How old were you when you developed these illnesses?
  • Have you or your partner had any difficulties with pregnancies, such as miscarriages?
  • What medications are you currently taking?

Also ask questions about other relatives, both living and deceased, such as:

  • What is our family’s ancestry – what country did we come from?
  • Has anyone in the family had learning or developmental disabilities?
  • What illnesses did our late grandparents have?
  • How old were they when they died? What caused their deaths?

Too Busy, Too Distracted

If you know that you might feel uncomfortable having these conversations in person, consider asking your family members to use technology to give you the answers instead.

Last Thanksgiving, I asked my dad to use My Family Health Portrait, a tool from the Surgeon General. He input the health history for his side of the family, and send me the file as an email attachment. I can open and print his side of the family’s health history, but I can also use the same tool to add my mother’s side. When I add my spouse’s parents and grandparent’s health histories, I create a family health history for our children to use. Because the data file isn’t saved online, I can decide who sees the health information.

Using My Family Health Portrait you can:

  • Enter your family health history.
  • Learn about your risk for conditions that can run in families.
  • Print your family health history to share with family or your health care provider.
  • Save your family health history so you can update it over time.

Talking with your health care provider about your family health history can help you stay healthy!

Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Health Information Librarian, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book group leader, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, Community Novel Project leader, HUSH podcaster, and frequent library customer. She reads a new book every few days, but recently enjoyed Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.