Did You Know? Learning Your Family’s Health History Can Improve Your Care

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Knowing your personal and family health histories is important. Marie McCormack, MD, medical director of Renown Medical Groupjoins Channel 4 KRNV (NBC) and Channel 11 KRXI (FOX) for Best Medicine Wednesday — a new weekly segment highlighting useful health information — and explains how knowing your history can improve your overall health and care. Plus, what you can do if you don’t already know what conditions run in your family.

Do you know your family’s health history? Experts say that by knowing medical conditions that may run in your family, along with your personal daily habits, health care providers are better able to manage your health. We sat down with Marie McCormack, MD, medical director of Renown Medical Group, to learn more about the importance of knowing your personal health and family health histories.

Why is it important to know your personal health and family health histories? How does this help care providers?

Knowing your personal and family health histories is important because it gives providers an indication of what to watch for. Just like when you’re driving and you see a sign for “caution — curve ahead,” family health histories are a warning sign to doctors of higher risks to patients.

If we know multiple people in your family have had breast or colon cancer, we know to watch for that and do preventive testing, and we can also test sooner. For example, with colon cancer, we would begin testing at 40 instead of 50, and in some breast cancer histories, we may start testing as early as your 30s. It’s all about knowing your risks and catching it early.

If people don’t have this information on their own, what do you recommend? How can they get the details they need?

The approaching holidays provide the perfect timing. I like to recommend making one of your dinner topics focused on family history — talk about any conditions grandma and grandpa had. If you find out grandma had breast cancer, you need to pass that information on to your doctor.

While it might not seem like the most fun dinner conversation, it’s also a great way to reminisce about loved ones who are no longer here and the traditions you shared at the holidays –so it can really be a two-for-one benefit.

Genetic testing may also be an option for people without family or who don’t want to talk with their family about their history. More and more people are trying DNA tests to find out their heritage and if they’re at higher risk for certain conditions.

If people choose to do genetic testing, how can their doctor help them understand the results?

If you’re part of our 23andMe collaboration with DRI or you do your own genetic test, your primary care provider can walk you through the results.

In particular, we’ll want to look at whether you may be higher risk for such things as high blood pressure and cholesterol, as those put you at increased risk for heart and vascular issues.We’ll also take this information and combine it with your personal health history. For example, if you smoke and are at a higher risk for heart and vascular issues, we’ll want to take immediate action to improve your health and prevent possible complications.

How does it help our community when we each learn more about our personal health? What’s the benefit?

Knowing your personal and family health history ensures you and your family receive the best care you can, and ideally improves your overall health at home, too. The same is true as more and more northern Nevadans learn about their personal health. Doing so gets entire communities closer to improving health and wellness across the Truckee Meadows.

Curious about how the DNA test works? Check out our handy graphic all about DNA.

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