Begin Documenting Your Family Health History This Thanksgiving

Marshfield Clinic Genetics Experts Offer Five Easy Steps and Easy-to-Use Form

as Surgeon General Launches National Initiative Monday, November 8

Nov 08, 2004, 00:00 ET from Marshfield Clinic

    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
 a consideration."
     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
         his/her family.
      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
         involve chemicals?
      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 . Another
 great place to start is through the National Society of Genetics Counselors
 website at . 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
 appropriate link.

SOURCE Marshfield Clinic