We can inherit a lot from our families. The color of our eyes, height, athletic prowess, but there are also some less desirable things we can inherit too. Our genetics play a major role in our health.
Certain health conditions can run in families too. These can be present from birth or increase our chances of developing a condition in later life.
So how should you deal with the knowledge that you may develop a potentially serious condition?
Get a thorough family history
How well do you know your family medical history? In order to assess your own risk, you should start by making a list of your blood relatives and find out if they lived with any serious health conditions and what they died of. Start with your closest family members such as your parents and siblings, and then move out to grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
Ask about conditions such as dementia, cancer, coronary conditions and mental health conditions.
If possible, find out what age they were when they developed the condition or passed away.
Decide how much you want to know
For some people, knowing as much as possible is important. There are various genetic tests you can take to see if you carry certain genes. Or you can schedule ultrasound transducer scans to rule out various cancers or aneurysms.
Other people prefer not to know and just want to live their lives without the possibility of illness hanging over them.
There is no right or wrong answer to this. It is up to you to decide if you want to learn more. Some people may change their minds when they decide to start a family and want to know the likelihood of passing on any genes to their future children.
Determine inherited conditions
Not all conditions are inherited. For example, if a relative died of lung cancer and was a lifelong heavy smoke and you are not, your risks of developing that are reduced. Not all diseases work the same when it comes to your genes. Some illnesses can be passed on by a gene from just one of your parents (in which case there is a 50% chance you will develop that condition).
However, there are some diseases that can only be passed on if both of your parents have the same relevant gene. This includes cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anaemia. It is not uncommon for certain conditions to skip a generation.
Not every condition is directly inherited, there can often be an element of environment and lifestyle too. These include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Decide on a course of action with your doctor
Your doctor is the best person to discuss your family health concerns with. They will be able to give you further information, arrange any testing, refer you to a specialist or advise you on lifestyle changes.
Your health is important and it can be very extremely upsetting to find out that it can be affected by something beyond your control. However, medical breakthroughs are happening all the time and with today’s knowledge, you can choose to be proactive and reduce the effects of many of these illnesses.