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VidaCura Newsletter VidaCura Newsletter: Taking Care of Ourselves: Health and Wellness Information You Can Use
Health and Wellness Information You Can Use
medical genealogy
  Getting information about medical screenings and tests should be done on a regular basis.
Charting Your Medical Genealogy

A century ago, infectious diseases – cholera, influenza, polio, etc. – were major cripplers or killers. Sanitation, antibiotics and vaccinations changed all that. Today, our major cripplers and killers are diseases we inherit – cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, etc.

The majority of these diseases have two causes.

One is a “bad” gene (or group of them) which pre-disposes you to the disease. The other is an environmental “trigger:” poor diet, smoking, too much sun, exposure to chemicals at work or pollutants at home, etc. In fact, says Pittsburg-based author-geriatrician Robert Palmer in his book Age Well!: “While genes do determine which diseases and conditions you are heir to, they become less ‘deterministic’ as lifestyle behaviors begin to neutralize or heighten their impact.”

Which means that genes are not destiny. If you know your heredity predisposition for a particular disease – think of it as your heredity quotient (HQ) – you can often do things to prevent it from occurring, or lessen its impact if it does strike.

To get the HQ information needed to fill out a chart, talk to parents, grandparents, and siblings about their health problems, but be sensitive when you are digging for answers. Ask:

  • If they have health problems – including mental health problems – they are (or aren’t) seeing a doctor about.
  • When, and in what situation and under what conditions, the problem(s) first appeared.
  • If there are never-mentioned miscarriages, still births or suicides in the family.
  • If any close (blood) relatives died at an early age, and of what.
  • You may also want to dig through newspaper obituaries and family documents: birth certificates, death certificates, church burial records, family bibles, family scrapbooks, etc.

Know the enemy:

After “charting” an HQ – as far back as possible – use the information you’ve put on paper to guide your prevention strategy (PS).

PS means getting information about medical screenings and tests you should be doing on a regular basis. It also means adopting behavior and lifestyle changes to lessen the chance that a predisposition to a disease will – as they say in medicalese—“express” itself. For some diseases, such as osteoarthritis or Huntington’s Disease, PS is low because there is little you can do to prevent them. Others, such as diabetes – and the conditions it triggers – or lung cancer, have a high PS rating because there is much that can be done to prevent them from “expressing.”

Your best source for information is your doctor. Find out from her/him what tests you should be doing regularly and what lifestyle changes you can make to boost your PS quotient.

Changes that give the most bang for the buck? Notes Palmer in Age Well!: Stop smoking, lose weight, get into a regular exercise program.

The next best source of information is organizations – i.e. the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Alzheimer’s Association – that deal specifically with the disease to which you are genetically pre-disposed, or the rare disease search engine. Local chapters are in the phonebook; national offices can be googled on the Internet.

And finally, hit the library. Don’t just read books, read magazine and medical journal articles, too, because their information is more current in terms of medical breakthroughs, treatments, and resources.

Chart your medical HQ:
To get a handle on your (and family member’s) HQ, use a standard genealogy chart to do a detailed family medical history. Free charts are available through the US Department of Health and Human Services, American Medical Association, National Society of Genetic Counselors, and Bailey’s Free Genealogy Forms.
August 2009
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