Understanding your family health genealogy

Understanding your family health genealogy

Six years ago, I turned 30, and my body experienced a health shift.

What had otherwise been a relatively healthy, low maintenance human body suddenly became demanding on my personal life. It did not like digesting certain foods, even though in the past, it did so with no restraint. It decided that allergies in the spring and fall would be a normality, as well as weight gain.

I knew I had a moderate level of control over my environment, food intake and activity level, and of course there was natural aging, but the genetic component was the X factor I did not want to guess about anymore. I decided I would begin some amateur sleuthing on my parents, their siblings and my grandparents’ health history. I wanted to uncover what our family had a propensity towards. If I was experiencing these various changes at 30, what did I have waiting for me at 40? 50? 80?

Genealogy is a big past time of my family, so I decided I would do a family health genealogy to locate various health patterns in my family legacies. If I knew my family’s propensities to certain weaknesses and diseases, I would then be able to address, curb and maybe prevent them. I found out quickly that although seniors enjoy talking about their aches and pains without prompting, asking health questions to parents, aunts and uncles was awkward as you watched them realize they had a longer list of health issues and created more of a somber tone. I had to get over the initial shock of the various diseases and issues that could be awaiting me in my DNA and realize they were not ALL going to crop up.

I tackled both sides of my family, listing all of the known health issues, but then focusing on one’s that repeated and were noteworthy:

  • Anemic (3)
  • Back issues (4+)
  • Cancer: Bladder, Colon, chronic Leukemia, skin
  • Cataracts(3)
  • Diabetes (6)
  • Gall bladder (4)
  • Heart Problems: heart attacks, heart failure, high blood pressure, murmurs, (6+)
  • Lupus (3)
  • Osteoarthritis(2)
  • Periodontal Disease(2)
  • Sleep disorder/Sleep Apnea (3)

After I had compiled my list, I gave copies of my family health history to my family physician, Dr. Laura DeMarco-Paitl, at Advocate Sherman Hospital, as well as the specialists I came into contact with. I also started researching the issues to get an idea of what I was dealing with and the best practices for prevention and maintaining my health.

From this beginning research, I was able to chart a plan of preventative health:

  • Visit a chiropractor periodically for back and spinal health
  • Schedule a colonoscopy to be proactive on colon cancer
  • Wear sunblock, appropriate clothing and hats to protect my skin
  • Go to an optometrist annually for a full eye exam
  • Periodically get a glucose check to make sure I am not going pre-diabetic
  • Check blood pressure wherever I can, mediate and learn low stress mechanisms for my heart
  • Maintain a good diet of meat, veggies/fruits and fibers, lots of water and good fats
  • Exercise for cardio, strength and flexibility
  • Floss and brush often to not only take care of my teeth and gums, but my heart

Working at a hospital has already helped me start the process of getting a colonoscopy and a glucose test. As breast cancer month is in full swing with overall awareness of women’s health issues during October being front and center, I am optimistic and empowered to continue tackling and maintaining my prevention list for my health and the future genetic legacy of my family.

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About the Author

Jennifer Benson
Jennifer Benson

Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Aurora Health. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.