Family medical history tree

Start the new year by creating a family medical history tree– Colleen Schrappen- St. Louis Post -Dispatch, 31 December 2015

It’s a new year. Time to make good on resolutions to take better care of ourselves.

Time to get reacquainted with the family doctor.

But before scheduling your annual checkup, it might be worth doing a little homework to identify any medical conditions or genetic anomalies along your family tree.

Mapping out your medical history takes effort, but the information collected is invaluable, says Dr. Jennifer Wessels, a primary care physician with BJC Medical Group in West County.

“It’s helpful for the patient to know their family history and to know what to look out for for themselves and their children,” says Wessels. “But it also helps the doctor to be aware of (a patient’s) risk factors and develop a plan for screening. Basic screening tests can be given to every patient, but family history can help pinpoint things.”

For example, if a person is diagnosed with colon cancer at a relatively young age, that patient’s children would be advised to undergo colonoscopies or other screenings earlier than the typical person.

The first branches on the family medical tree should be parents, grandparents and siblings, says Wessels.

Some relatives may be reluctant to share their health histories, but being upfront about your motivation for asking can help, she says. “When you talk to your family, tell them why you’re interested: You want to know your own risk factors.”

Ask about conditions that have a genetic component, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Then, be as specific as possible: How old was the person at diagnosis? How severe was the illness? What was the treatment? Was it successful?

Physical ailments, though, are just one part of the equation, says Dr. Jaime Hook, a psychiatrist and the interim medical director of BJC Behavioral Health.

“You definitely want to know about mood disorders — anxiety, depression, bipolar — any history of suicide, substance abuse, eating disorders, autism, even ADHD and learning disorders,” says Hook. “For any psychiatric disease or substance abuse disorder, there is some genetic component. There is increased risk.”

Hook recommends candor when bringing up potentially sensitive subjects.

“Start out in the framework that it might be uncomfortable,” she says. “Share about yourself, and tell why you’re asking. Be respectful that people might want be uncomfortable and might have resistance.”

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