Some medical conditions are hereditary or influenced by your genes, so it can be proactive to learn more about your family’s medical history. In some cases, it can help you start taking the appropriate steps if certain diseases or conditions do run in your family.
To spark that conversation, INSIDER spoke with several doctors to find out which questions you should ask your family to better understand your health.
Do you, or any of our blood relatives, have any chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.?
It’s important to know the answer to this question because your chances of developing a chronic health condition are much higher if your parents or immediate family members have such a condition, according to Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, Chief Scientific Officer at Clover Health.
Genetics play a key role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions, meaning some people are more susceptible to developing these conditions than others.
Dr. Dharmarajan explained that when you know your family’s medical history you can work with your doctor to identify potential risk factors and develop a plan to delay or even prevent the onset of some of these conditions.
Did you or anyone in your family ever have problems with anesthesia?
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There is an extremely rare hereditary genetic mutation that can actually cause a deadly reaction when put under anesthesia, Celine Thum, MD of ParaDocs Worldwide, Inc told INSIDER. The condition is called Malignant Hyperthermia Syndrome (MHS).
Knowing if your family has a history of MHS can help you plan for the use of different drugs to control pain and sedation during any future surgeries.
Have you, or any of your blood relatives, had a major medical event such as a heart attack, stroke, or cancer diagnosis?
In many instances, if your parents or immediate family members have experienced major disease complications or health events, there’s a higher risk you may have similar issues, Dr. Dharmarajan told INSIDER.
The good news is that the risk factors are modifiable and early detection and treatment can potentially prevent serious illness such as stroke and heart attacks, adds Dr. Thum.
Plus, depending on your history, your doctor may encourage early screenings for cancers or other diseases that run in the family, depending on the age that your family members were diagnosed.
Is there any history of mental health issues in our family, including alcoholism or other kinds of substance abuse?
Your chances of having a mental illness are sometimes higher if a family member also has a mental illness such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, said Dr. Dharmarajan.
You may also want to ask if your family has a history of alcoholism or substance abuse because some risk factors for mental illness are passed on behaviorally. A New Zealand study found that the more relatives a person had with major depression, anxiety, or alcohol or drug dependence, the more likely they were to have that condition, too.
Have you been tested for genetic diseases?
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If your parents carry any disease genes, there is a chance you have inherited those gene mutations that could cause problems for your future biological children, should you choose to have any.
Even though you may not have the disease, you could be a carrier with only one disease gene. If you have a biological child with someone who also is a carrier of the same disease gene, then your child could develop the disease. There is an increased chance you and your partner carry the same disease-causing gene if you’re of the same ethnic background.
Has anyone in your family died at a young age and if so, was the cause known?
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There are some hereditary heart conditions that may go undetected unless early testing is done, said Dr. Thum.
One of these conditions is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), a disease in which the heart muscles become abnormally thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. Oftentimes HCM goes undiagnosed in people who have the disease because so few symptoms exist.
But if you know that someone in your family has HCM or another hereditary heart condition, you can be proactive by letting your doctor know so you can receive early testing and treatment.
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