JOPLIN, Mo. —
When compiling a family history, researchers often notice health patterns among the various lines.
Members of some lines live longer. Other lines have health problems such as heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, birth defects, asthma, mental illness or alcoholism. Details about diseases and other conditions are found in death certificates, obituaries, letters, bibles, diaries, military records and pension records.
Details about family health patterns can help a doctor in diagnosing problems, and it can also help each person recognize his or her increased health risks. Armed with that knowledge, patients may need to change to a healthier life style and add new medical tests to regular checkups.
After tracing one's family medical history, should a researcher share the information with other family members? Absolutely. However, steps need to be taken to protect the privacy of family members.
If a researcher has a genealogy website, never include medical information. When filing out the medical history at a doctor's office, do not include the names of relatives, only the relationships. You never know who might see those records.
If drawing a pedigree chart of health problems, use squares for men and circles for females. Caution other family members to not share details about family health problems with anyone but close family members and doctors.
The surgeon general has created a website that provides software that can help families organize information on family health patterns. The site is www.hhs.gov/familyhistory.
When the site opens, scroll down to “Access the My Family Health Portrait Web Tool.” When the next screen opens, read “Learn more about My Health Portrait.”
After learning more by using the health tool, return to the former screen and click on “Create a Family History.” After data is entered, a health pedigree can be printed. The site notes that only the person inputting the details can download the health pedigree.
Whether a person decides to complete the health form or not, much can be learned by reading the questions on the form because they provide clues to the type of details that need to be gathered during family research.
A few of the questions are about race and ethnicity, because some diseases are more common among some groups. One example was whether a person has Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. The site notes that Ashkenazi heritage carries an increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
Another question is whether the parents were related. When asking about specific diseases, the site has a space to add the age at the time of diagnosis and the actions that were taken.
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