A family medical history or a medical family tree is a wonderful tool that can help patients and health care providers review a record of illnesses to determine risk factors and help develop preventative measures. Though it may seem time consuming, creating a medical family tree is not difficult.
Benefits of a Medical Family Tree
People inherit half of their genetic material from each parent. These genes may also include the potential for developing certain medical conditions. The written document serves to identify genetic patterns that may affect your future health. The information is useful to health care providers to:
• Recommend dietary changes, lifestyle alterations or treatments to reduce disease risk
• Choose appropriate diagnostic tests
• Routinely schedule certain screening tests
• Evaluate patients for a particular disease process that may not normally be considered
• Monitor children or other family members who may be at risk
Start the Project
Discuss the project with parents and siblings to get their input and information. These are the people with whom you are most closely related and who share a greater number of common genes. From there turn to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Also include nieces, nephews and great-grandparents.
Age is Important
Include the age when a relative first experienced symptoms of a particular condition. Consider their age when they received treatment and how old they were when they died. There is typically a stronger genetic risk if a relative developed diabetes at a young age or suffered a heart attack shortly after turning 40. Disease processes emerging after the age of 75 are not unimportant but do not necessarily present an immediate risk.
Get the Details
Ask about the time span from when a relative initially experienced symptoms and sought medical help until the time of their death. If the cause of death is unknown, knowing the symptoms often aids a health care provider determine the illness. If possible, find out the type of physician that provided care and what treatments were prescribed.
Include whether any relatives smoked, had problems with alcohol or other substances. Certain geographical locations and occupations are also known to be associated with developing certain disease processes. Add a brief history of past and present living locations in addition to various occupations. For each relative, make a note concerning ethnicity or race. Some genetic mutations are more common in peoples of certain ethnic backgrounds. Older relatives may not recall certain details. Ask questions and get as many details as possible. Some may be embarrassed or reluctant to share the information. Gently explain that the information they possess can mean better health for all family members.
Store and Share Your Medical Tree
The U.S. Surgeon General offers a self-explanatory “My Family Health Portrait” website that secures your information. Keep the tree updated as needed. When visiting any physician, bring a copy of your tree.