Your Future Health May Stem From Your Family Tree

By heidi Bale

So while you are enjoying Aunt Dorothy’s rolls, Tante Inge’s Schnitzel, or Brother Paul’s “special tea?” Take a moment to ask a few questions. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke may be well known in the family, but it pays to ask about some less common diseases that affect your gene pool so you know what to watch out for.

One of the easiest health history interviews to accomplish is family members with chronic diseases. You may notice family members in wheelchairs, using adaptive devices, carrying diabetic supplies (glucometer, insulin, syringes), or carrying medication bottles. You may know the answers already simply because you grew up around these folks, others you only see every other year at reunions or funerals (an apt time to find out some health information-“what did he/she die of?”).  Depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease can be shared in the DNA. Heart disease, cancers, elevated lipids, osteoporosis, and Parkinson’s disease are only some of the genetic diseases shared among generations.

So let’s say that you gathered some information while sitting with Cousin Thomas and Uncle Erik. What should you do with the material you gleaned? Document it all and share it with your primary care provider at your next visit. This will give them an opportunity to identify risk factors and talk to you about screenings. Together, you can make a plan based on early symptoms you may have, or family genetics you may want to test for. Some ethnicities are linked with disease processes such as Diabetes for African-Americans and Native Americans. Ask your health care provider about screening exams for ethnicity-related health problems if you have questions.


Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on 5/3/13. If you would like to respond to this story go to