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Add health history to holiday talk

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Consider my soap box officially out and I am climbing up on it. Can you hear me? Good.

I’ve decided to, once again, take advantage of the upcoming holiday and say something I think needs to be said. If you’ve heard me say it before, well, it won’t hurt you to hear it again.

In four days it will be here, the smell of sweet potato casserole and cornbread dressing. Ahhhh. Once again, we will sit around the dining room table, unable to speak at first as the rice and giblet gravy and warm, moist turkey take over our taste buds.

And then it happens. Someone brings up that time when so-and-so did that hilarious thing that made so-and-so wet her pants right there in church. And what about the time ...

It’s one of my favorite things about the holidays.

This holiday season, when the family is together and you’re making phone calls to the aunts and uncles and great-grandparents that couldn’t be there to wish them a happy day and ask how they’ve been doing, consider taking your conversation a little further — ask them about their medical history.

OK, so maybe it’s not the most uplifting thing to discuss, but it could lead to one of the most important gifts you can ever give yourself and your family. A medical family tree — it’s pretty darn important.

Of the approximately 10,000 illnesses known to humankind, at least 3,000 leave genetic footprints. The list of diseases that can be hereditary includes heart disease, diabetes, leukemia, high blood pressure, depression, alcoholism, numerous cancers and many others.

You inherit half of your genetic profile from each parent. Along with the genetic information that determined your appearance, you inherited genes that may cause or increase your risk of certain medical conditions. A family medical history can help your doctor interpret the history of disease in your family and identify patterns that may be relevant to your own health.

Knowing your medical history can help your doctor assess your risk of certain diseases and identify a condition that might not have been considered if someone else in your family had not had it, too. Among other important things, a thorough medical history can help your doctor know when you need to have certain screening tests.

The National Cancer Institute recommends women with no medical history of breast cancer begin having mammograms at age 40. Because my grandmother and sister had breast cancer — meaning I am at an increased risk — I had my first mammogram when I was 34. Yes, it’s uncomfortable ... but it beats the alternative.

A family medical history can’t predict your future health — it only provides information about risk. Other factors, such as your diet, weight, exercise routine and exposure to environmental factors, also will raise or lower your risk of developing certain diseases.

OK, so maybe it’s not the most fun conversation to have over the holidays. But it’s important. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your children.

Remember — you might think you know everything about your family history, and that’s great. But what do you know about your husband’s or wife’s great-grandfather? Were they diabetic? Did they have cancer or heart disease? Half of your child’s genetic profile comes from that side of the family and has nothing to do with you.

So ask aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, great grandparents ... wait until the turkey is eaten and the last of the deviled eggs are gone. But ask. And share what you find out with your doctor and your children’s doctor and the rest of the family.

It might just turn out to be the best gift someone gets this year.

OK, I’m off my soap box now. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at flyn1862@bellsouth.net.