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National Family History Day

Thanksgiving is also known as National Family History Day. Here's how you can take charge of your health by getting to know your family's.


Download the family health tree

Thanksgiving is a time in which families gather to eat, drink, and give thanks for each other’s health and happiness. In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving as National Family History Day. The intention is to use Thanksgiving as a gathering to bring attention to possible health risks for the entire family. A large family gathering like Thanksgiving provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the health history of loved ones both here and gone.

“When we ask patients about their family health history, we’re seeking clues about how we should treat that patient today and in the future,” says Dr. Kevin Cunningham, Chief Medical Officer at The Iowa Clinic. Heredity conditions and diseases are important to know. Though it is not guaranteed you will inherit the same health issues as your family, there is an increased risk. This includes the whole bloodline — grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Knowing your health risks allows you to take precautions and be aware. For example, if your grandmother has osteoporosis, you may want to take supplements of calcium and vitamin D; if your uncle has diabetes, you may want to incorporate more low fat and low calorie foods into your diet; if your mother had stage one breast cancer, you should talk to your doctor about getting yearly screenings at 30 rather than 40.

Use this Thanksgiving to talk to your family about their health and utilize the family health tree to organize the information you learn. Some common hereditary health problems to be aware of and to list on your family health tree are:

  • Heart disease, both coronary artery disease and high blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer, specifically lung, breast, prostate, colorectal, and ovarian
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis

Less common hereditary conditions include:

  • Sickle-cell anemia
  • Hemophilia
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Once you know your family health history, talk to your primary care doctor about the prevention steps you can take against these conditions and disease to live your healthiest life. Your family’s past can hold key insights to your future. Take the time to learn what your body may have in store for you. Your body will thank you.

Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor by calling 515.875.9000 or visiting The Iowa Clinic Primary Care Department.

Download the family health tree

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