The Importance of Knowing Your Family History

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From one generation to the next

As the holiday season approaches, especially with Christmas and the New Year fast-approaching, we’re often reminded of many things – some good, some bad. We may be (but in Michigan, definitely are) subjected to colder temperatures and harsher winds, busier shopping malls, and the stresses of traveling. Not only that, but with 2017 around the corner, many of us will inevitably reflect on the past year, possibly with regrets on some of the choices we’ve made.

However, the holiday season is also a time for many other things. For some, it’s the opportunity to spend time with friends and family one may not get to see often. For others, it’s the opportunity to find just the right gift for their loved one and the ability to see their eyes light up with joy upon receiving it. And for many, it’s a chance to get wrapped up in the magic of the season in their own special way – getting to bake cookies, sing seasonally specific songs, decorate their homes, or simply spread a little cheer to their fellow man with a simple “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays.”

It's All in the Family

Though we may not all have someone close to spend the holiday season with this time of year, it’s always important to understand the connection that we have to our families – even when considering vascular health.

In many conditions, family history can be a contributing risk factor in the development of vascular disease, and being aware of your family’s past health can help identify any conditions that may arise in your own health.

Because our family members share their genes with us, as well as engage in the same environment, lifestyles, and habits, we directly inherit many of their health conditions as well. Vascular conditions, such as stroke, aneurysms, peripheral vascular disease, and deep vein thrombosis, as well as risk factors for these conditions, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, are as assignable of birth traits as eye color or dimples.

Former Patients & Family History

In the testimonials that we receive from our patients, many of the stories told by those who’ve suffered from vascular disease include family history as a common theme. Robert Barker, a Weidman resident who visited Vascular Health Clinics throughout this past year, attributed his arteriosclerosis diagnosis to his family history. However, because of his awareness of the disease in his bloodline, Robert was able to quickly determine the condition’s exact cause, and immediately let Dr. Haqqani know.

“I told my doctor he should send any patients like me that have a similar family history to Vascular Health Clinics,” Robert said.

In an upcoming testimonial, Marie Steele, a 79-year-old Prudenville resident, also attributed the plaque build-up in her left carotid artery to a family history, despite feeling normal prior to her diagnosis.

“I didn’t realize there was any blockage at all,” Marie said. “A history of stroke runs in my family, but I had been doing just fine without any symptoms at all.”

Improving Your Own Health

While there’s nothing one can do to change their genes, there are many ways that the negative aspects of your family history don’t have to define your own health. Making lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier, getting more exercise, or quitting smoking, can reduce the risk of diseases that run in your family. Remember, though, that even if there isn't a history of any major vascular conditions in your family, there could still be a possibility of risk, as these other factors can also contribute to the spread of vascular disease. To decrease your risk even further, it’s also important to actively engage in screening tests that have the ability to detect risk factors of disease, or the early stages of conditions, as another method of prevention.

However, more than anything, the most beneficial thing one can do to find out more about their family history is to simply talk to their family. Call your parents and ask them if there are any health risks that you should be aware of. Call your children and make them aware of any conditions that run in your bloodline. Have a conversation with your wife/husband, boyfriend/girlfriend, or partner, and ask them if there’s anything in their family history you should be aware of. Afterwards, write down any information you find and share it with your doctor or specialist for the most accurate snapshot of your family history.

As many of us begin to come together to celebrate the holidays, a perfect opportunity is provided for us all to have conversations with our family about any potential health concerns. Something as simple as a five-minute conversation could make all the difference when it comes to vascular disease, and being that much more aware could potentially save a life – even yours. Who knows? You may learn something you didn’t know before, and continue to build an even stronger relationship with your loved ones in the process.

And really, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?