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Learning your family's full medical history can be your wellness secret weapon.

Jessica Migala
October 17, 2017

You get your checkups and live for kale—great! But if you don't know why Grandpa was in the hospital or why Mom takes those meds, you're missing out on a vital part of staying healthy. Not only do you and your close relatives share many genes, which can play a role in your risk of diseases like diabetes and cancer, but families also tend to have similar lifestyle habits that can affect health.

When doctors ask about the health of your relatives, they're seeking clues to how they should treat you today—and in the future. Here's what you can do it you discover you have a family history of any of these common conditions.

A History of Breast Cancer

Start getting screening mammograms 10 years earlier than the youngest age at which a relative was diagnosed. Talk to a genetic counselor about whether you should consider genetic testing. Studies show that exercising and limiting alcohol intake can lower your likelihood of developing breast cancer.

 

 

A History of Low Bone Density

Make sure you consume enough calcium and vitamin D. Maintain a strength-training regimen to bolster bones and help avoid falls later. All women age 65 or older should have a bone density screening, but start at menopause if you're in a high-risk family.

A History of Tummy Troubles

Take digestive symptoms seriously and bring them up with your doctor—you'll be evaluated more closely if you have relatives with colon cancer. Beyond that, keep your gut healthy by eating more plants, boosting fiber intake, limiting red meat, and exercising.

A History of Diabetes

If you have a parent or sibling with diabetes, your odds of having the condition are about four times as high. Get your blood glucose levels tested once or twice a year (more often if you are overweight). Regardless of your weight or blood sugar levels, make an effort to exercise and eat healthy, which may mean following a low-carb diet.

A History of Heart Disease

Lifestyle factors greatly influence heart health, so skip sugary soda, try to follow a Mediterranean-type diet, keep moving throughout the day, avoid cigarette smoke, and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

A History of Skin Cancer

If you have a first-degree relative with melanoma, your risk of that cancer is 50 percent greater than if you had no family history. And a family history of any skin cancer increases your risk of basal cell carcinoma. Have a skin exam every six months to a year. Be vigilant about sun safety, and wear SPF 30 zinc oxide sunscreen daily.