Monday, December 18, 2006

For the sake of your health

Recently I came across an article in Santa Rosa's Press Democrat entitled "Health Legacy." []

It dealt with the importance of family medical histories in determining possible hereditary health problems. Reporter Carol Benfell pointed out the timeliness of her subject: families often congregate during the holidays, offering us an opportunity to pin down certain medical facts that otherwise might not come up.

As she said, "Many of us have only a vague idea about our grandparents' lives. We may not be in touch with all our aunts and uncles. Our parents may be keeping us in the dark about their health."

Well, as genealogists we may be better informed than some other people, but we tend to look for dates and places of death, rather than causes. (And in some states, the cause of death is deleted from copies of the death certificate, if copies are available to researchers at all.) And earlier chronic illnesses or other underlying causes hardly get a notice in those family histories I have seen.

Physicians may or may not request a family medical history, though they probably ask a lot of questions about one's own past health issues. But it can't hurt, and may help, to see that they are informed about these family matters.

Benfell quotes Dr. Carlos Garcia of the Kaiser Medical Center in Santa Rosa, who says you should pay particular attention to the medical history before your relative was 60, because those are the things that are most likely to be inherited.

"If you know you're at risk for an inherited ailment, you can be vigilant about screening for it and then treat it early," Benfell's sources point out, "when you have the best chance for success."

The full article appeared in the December 12 issue of the Press Democrat. A sidebar offers addresses for websites which go into more detail, and include directions for drawing up a medical family tree. [The first link, to the Dept of Health and Human Services, had an incorrect address. The correct form is:

Another website is from the National Society of Genetic Counselors. It includes illustrations and instructions for creating your own medical "tree."
is also a source for information on how -- and why -- to compile your family medical history.

[Although these links worked for me, if you have trouble getting to the sites you can try using key words in a Google search, such as Mayo + "medical history" or HHS + familyhistory]

You may be able to tell from some of the subjects in this blog that I am an old-fashioned reader of newspapers. Yes, the paper kind. Not many of us left, if my friends and family are to be believed. But I persist, and find it not just worth the effort, but a stimulating prelude to the day's activities, as important to me as that first cup of coffee. When genealogical items show up, that's a nice bonus.

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