Wednesday 13 March 2019

Marla Ahlgrimm | Family History Matters

Marla Ahlgrimm
When you talk with your doctor for the first time, the office will likely ask you about your family health history. If you can’t answer these questions, you may be putting yourself at risk, says retired pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm. Your family history is an integral part of who you are and can tell a lot about your health.

Q: How does my family history play a part in my health?

Marla Ahlgrimm: You inherit genes from both your mother and father, who inherited their genes from their mother and father and so on until the beginning of time. You can think of yourself as a puzzle made up of pieces from dozens of other people, including your parents and grandparents. You inherit physical traits, such as height and skin color, but you can also inherit diseases. Knowing your family history up to about your great-grandparents can help you gauge your risk for hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and much more.

Q: What are some things I should know and tell my doctor?

Marla Ahlgrimm: If at all possible, try to collect health information as far back as your great-grandparents. You should also find out about health conditions inherited by your first and second cousins and your aunts and uncles. Take a quick look at your family tree or have your DNA tested to determine your ethnic heritage. Some diseases are more common among specific ethnic groups. Sickle cell anemia is an example of a genetic disorder most common in people with African ancestry.

Q: How can my doctor use this information for my benefit?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Your healthcare team will look at your family history to make determinations about screenings for you. Further, if you present with unusual symptoms, your family history will give your doctors a starting point on where to look. For instance, if you begin to experience personality changes in your 50s, your doctor may look for a family history of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Q: What other information does my doctor need?

Marla Ahlgrimm: It’s a good idea to let your doctor know if you have a family history of people dying before the accepted life expectancy the year they were born. If your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all passed away before their 60th birthday, this will give you a chance to better manage your health so you don’t succumb to the same fate.


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