Climb into your family tree
EAGLE COUNTY – Sometimes an event passes with little fanfare or recognition. Oftentimes what sells headlines receives all the press while what may be important is delegated to the back page (if it makes the news at all). Just such a situation recently caught me by surprise. I keep up with reading the latest medical headlines in my medical news journals, and it took me by total surprise when, at the bottom of a page, I read about National Family History Day. If you have stopped by for a new patient visit with meor my partner, Dr. Ammon, you know how particular we are about getting a family history. It is through our family medicine training that we recognize the importance of a person’s genetics, social and environmental influences on one’s health. I couldn’t have been happier to read that Thanksgiving Day 2004 was named the inagural National Family History Day.This was no small event. In fact, the importance of knowing your family history is so significant that U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., in cooperation with other several other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a national public health campaign, called the U.S. Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history. Other agencies involved in this initiative include National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). In the medical field, these are among the most prominent and influential governmental groups.It may sound easy to know one’s family history. Here is a quiz to see how well you really do. To keep it simple, think only of your parents, grandparents, siblings and children: 1) Can you name all the medicines your family members take?2) What are those medications taken for?3) What medical conditions do your families members have that are not being treated?4) Who smokes, who drinks alcohol and how much?5) Who has or had a stroke, heart attack, cancer, high blood pressure or diabetes?6) If any of your family members have passed away, how old were they and what was their cause of death? If you can answer every question, congratulate yourself. Then, after patting yourself on the back, write your answers down. Sadly, once a generation has passed on, a lot of information is often lost. A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. Nevertheless, the same survey found that only 33 percent of Americans have written down their family’s health history.Because family health history is so important to you and your doctor, the surgeon general has created a new computerized tool to help make it fun and easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family’s health. It is very straightforward, but like me when I filled it out, a phone call or two may be needed to make sure your information is accurate. This new tool, called “My Family Health Portrait,” can be downloaded for free and installed on your computer. You can go back and update it at any time. When you go to your doctor, there is even an option to print it out to bring it in with you. Not only will you get to see your information presented in an easy to read format, you will also get to see your family tree. This diagrammatic representation of who’s who in your family is as valuable as it is fascinating to look at.The family history tool can be downloaded in English or Spanish at http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/download.html. Your doctor will certainly appreciate your family health history. What you may appreciate the most, however, is the experience of filling it out. Perhaps you will reconnect with someone you have not seen in awhile. Maybe you will share knowledge about your family and feel the closeness that comes from deepening the roots of your family tree.Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a weekly column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658. vail colorado
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