Are You Keeping Track of Your History?

One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is your medical record...

For example, take my research analyst, Amanda. Her mother never knew her birth parents, so she's gone through life with no knowledge of her family's medical history.

Over the years, every time she went to the doctor, they'd ask her about her family history. She was frustrated that every time she'd have to answer, "I don't know."

So when my analyst was still in diapers, her mother decided to start keeping detailed, precise records of her own health. She never wanted her daughter to have to answer "I don't know" to those family medical questions.

Her mom's recordkeeping paid off... It may have even saved my analyst's life.

A few months back, Amanda had surgery. She let her doctors know that the last time her mother went under general anesthesia, her blood pressure dropped dangerously low. If she hadn't known this information, her procedure could have gone from relatively routine to potentially fatal. Telling her anesthesiologist about her mother's medical history helped keep her safe.

Knowing your family's medical history is a crucial component of good health.

Many diseases are influenced not only by genes, but by environment as well. These are multifactorial disorders.

I've long said that many diseases act this way. For instance, a lot of folks in your family might have had skin cancer, which raises your risk. But long hours in sunshine and frequent sunburns increase your risk even more.

Here are some of the most common multifactorial disorders linked to family history...

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1) Diabetes. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine released a long review of the several dozen studies done on family history and diabetes risk. Basically, most reviews all shared one finding: Folks with at least one diabetic parent had at least double the risk for developing diabetes themselves. In one study, it was as much as six times higher.

2) Hypertension. As it turns out, hypertension also runs in families. We reported on it a few weeks ago when Nature Genetics found more than 100 genes connected with high blood pressure.

A review posted in the American Journal of Hypertension studied folks with normal blood pressure. However, those with a family history of hypertension had already started showing signs of the disease in their hearts compared with those without a history.

And a large study out of Sri Lanka confirmed the connection, with twice as many folks reporting a family history of hypertension getting a positive diagnosis.

3) Cancer. This one's a bit tricky, as some cancers have more of a genetic role than others. For example, having a family history of skin cancer increases your risk. You should check in with a dermatologist.

Breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and ovarian cancer all have strong genetic ties. But that's not all. According to a study from the Annals of Oncology, there's strong evidence that having a close family member with one type of cancer increases your risk for other types. For instance, if your mother or father had bladder cancer, you have more than three times the risk of getting prostate cancer. (See the full study here.)

While there are some diseases that you can't prevent, for many, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk. And if you know that you're at a higher risk of certain diseases – like hypertension – because of your family history, you can take steps to lower the risk you'll develop them.

Unfortunately, many folks don't have any idea what their family's medical history is, even if they have good relationships with their birth parents.

So we've put together a sheet I want you to use...

I recommend that you print it out and share the information on it with your children – they'll appreciate the guidance. As with my analyst, it could even save their lives!

This sheet isn't meant to cover everything... But it will provide you with a great foundation to get started.

Print out a copy (or several copies) by clicking right here.

What We're Reading...

  • A quick quiz to test your knowledge of diabetes and family history.

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and Amanda Cuocci
Toronto, Ontario
March 2, 2017