MARSHFIELD, Wis., Nov. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- As researchers learn more about
diseases and conditions that have a hereditary component, documenting your
family health history is taking on new importance, according to genetics
experts at Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin.
"Creating a detailed health history can benefit everyone and family
gatherings are a great place to start," said Christina Zaleski, a certified
genetic counselor at Marshfield Clinic.
"Knowing about predispositions for certain diseases in your family such as
heart disease, diabetes, depression or cancer could lead to prevention or an
early diagnosis and treatment. For instance, if you know there's a history of
breast cancer in your family, your doctor may recommend you or your daughters
begin having mammograms or MRI scans earlier. For some women who are known to
be at high risk, other options such as surgery or chemoprevention may also be
Zaleski says most people become interested in health histories when
they're thinking about having children or dealing with a relative's illness.
She suggests using family get-togethers as an opportunity to begin to talk and
create a health history the whole family can share. Obtaining a family history
under less stressful situations can make the process easier.
"This shouldn't put a damper on festivities," she said. "Talking with
family members about their health is a good way to learn more about them and
also hear great stories."
For people who think talking about health might be difficult for family
members, Zaleski suggests sending relatives a letter to explain the project
and how everyone can benefit from this work. That way, they can write down
information they later can send or bring to a designated family member.
Zaleski and her Marshfield Clinic genetics colleagues recommend five steps
for creating a comprehensive family health history:
1. Document health information for three generations, if possible. Start
with yourself, any children, your parents and immediate family
(brothers and sisters). Next, move on to relatives such as
grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. For a more comprehensive
health history, you can add your spouse and three generations of
2. Capture as much information as possible and be accurate about birth
defects, developmental disabilities and diseases diagnosed in the
family. If possible, document at what age the conditions began and
ages at death. Include common, as well as more rare conditions that
may be in the family. It is equally important to document relatives
that lived to an old age and were healthy. It is also helpful to
include the countries of origin for your ancestors (for example, did
your grandparents come from Germany, China, Mexico?)
3. Document environmental or job exposures. For example, do any family
members smoke, work with chemicals or live near industries that
4. Keep the information filed in a safe place at home on paper or on your
computer and update it every year as the family grows and changes.
Also put a copy in a safe deposit box.
5. Pass along the information to others in the family and to your
children. Share a copy with your doctor or genetic counselor at your
next medical visit.
Awareness of almost any disease or condition in the family can help family
doctors provide better care, according to Zaleski. The more information shared
with family physicians or a genetic counselor, the better, she added.
Easy Forms Available Online
"You can create a family health history using forms available on the
Internet," Zaleski said. "Marshfield Clinic will have a form available
starting Monday, November 8, at http://www.marshfieldclinic.org . Another
great place to start is through the National Society of Genetics Counselors
website at http://www.nsgc.org . On this website, you can also find a genetic
counselor near you to discuss specific concerns you may have about your family
The Marshfield Clinic system consists of 39 patient care, research and
education facilities in northern, central and western Wisconsin, making it one
of the largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States.
Available Topic Expert(s): For information on the listed expert(s), click
CHRISTINA ZALESKI, M.S.
SOURCE Marshfield Clinic