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Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

BY LARRY K. MCREYNOLDS

Each year since 2004, the U.S. surgeon general designates Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day. This initiative is meant to take advantage of the holiday when family members of all ages are gathered together, to discuss hereditary health issues. This approach is a great step toward addressing preventable conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These are among the most common and costly health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The surgeon general says only a third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family’s health history. We can do better!

Know Your Family History: My grandfather was proud to say he saw the doctor only once—at birth. He later died from cancer and we are certain that if he had annual checkups, he may have lived longer. Additionally, my mother was overweight and a diabetic. Even knowing this much about my family health history led me to make significant changes in my lifestyle. I am more mindful of the foods I eat, and I receive regular health screenings, and stay physically active. There is so much more we can learn about our family’s health, however, so you will want to get as detailed as possible when building your health history.

Know Yourself: You will want to pay close attention to your own body, especially if a chronic illness or condition runs in your family. Everyone, without question needs to know their risks and take their health into their own hands. For instance, a simple blood test from your doctor can show you if you have a vitamin deficiency, or have a blood sugar issue, or may potentially be at risk for hypertension (high blood pressure). Personal wellness is about knowing our health information and weighing it against our family history. You help yourself best when you clearly understand your risks, seek support from your physician, and stay in control of your health.

Know Your Doctor: Develop a relationship with your doctor and see him or her regularly. Share your family history with your doctor and ask if you should see a genetic counselor if you are at risk of an inherited disorder. Ask them questions about your health, what you can be screened for and how often, and general health tips they can offer. With my doctor, I never shy away from asking questions because I care about my health and I know they do too. With today’s technology, like the Epic medical records system we recently launched at NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, your family history and risks become part of your medical record for your providers to see and evaluate.

We are fortunate to live in a city that is home to some of the finest healthcare institutions and providers anywhere. Let’s take the surgeon general’s advice and get to know our families in a different way this Thanksgiving.

 

Larry K. McReynolds

Larry K. McReynolds

 Larry K. McReynolds is the executive director for NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, and senior vice president for community health for NYU Langone Health System.  

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