Individuals inherit many traits and characteristics from their parents. The color of your eyes, hair, and body type can all be traced back to the genes passed on to you by your family. Perhaps more important to your future well being than your outward appearance is the family medical tendencies you inherit. The United States office of the Attorney General states that obtaining an accurate health history and recording it can give you and your medical provider information you need for better health (http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/).The Family Medical Pedigree is also called a Family Tree or Genogram (Olsen, S., Dudley-Brown, S., & McMullen, P. 2004). The Pedigree is a diagram showing connections to relatives going back at least three generations. At a minimum it includes date of birth or age, sex, and health problems (http://www.nsgc.org/).Once this information is gathered and recorded it can be shared with medical providers and other family members to provide information needed to make sound health decisions (http://www.hhs.gov/famlyhistory/).
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Significant Health History
Using the information contained in Jarvis (2008), the National Society of Genetic Counselors (http://www.nsgc.org), and Health and Human Services (https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/fhh-web/home.action), web sites I was able to construct by own Family Medical Pedigree. Seeing the information in print allowed me to easily determine the predominant disease traits in my family. Jarvis (2008), names specific diseases or conditions to pay particular attention to including: heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, blood disorders, cancer, sickle-cell anemia, arthritis, allergies, obesity, alcoholism, mental illness, seizure disorder, kidney disease and tuberculosis. In my Pedigree there is an obvious tendency towards cardiovascular disease. Specifically five of my relatives have had myocardial infarctions (MI), one MI resulted in death, seven had/have hypertension including myself, my paternal grandmother died from complications related to cerebral vascular accident that was caused by untreated hypertension, and my father died of kidney disease which was directly related to damage caused by hypertension. My mother has hypertension and although fairly well controlled she has had an MI and suffers from a retinal vein occlusion and macular degeneration which has resulted in severe vision impairment. Furthermore osteo and rhematoid arthritis is very prevalent in our family. In addition there is a strong maternal tendency towards hypothyroidism of which four females on the maternal side of the Pedigree have including me.
Lifestyle Contributing Factors
It is important to note that five of my relatives had lifestyles that contributed to hypertension and three of the five also suffered from an MI. My mother and father were heavy smokers for most of their adult lives, each quitting when the health implications became obvious. My paternal aunt was a heavy smoker until an MI which resulted in her death. Although obesity is a contributor to hypertension and heart disease, all of my relatives had/have relatively normal weights. My mother has sarcoidosis and was actively treated for a long time with prednisone which contributed to her vision problems. Important to note is that not only did my mother smoke but she also exposed herself to countless hazardous chemicals while working most of her life in kitchens. One would not think a commercial kitchen as a hazardous place to work until you realize the cleaning agents that are used on a regular basis. My mother was and continues to be a cleaning fanatic and considers the harsher the chemical the better.
Torpy, J. (2006) claims that there are many theories about how sarcoidosis is acquired including environmental exposure, and genetic tendencies. In addition to sarcoidosis my mother has age related macular degeneration (ARMD), the American Medical Association (http:// ama-assn.org) states (as cited by Haines, J., Spencer K., Pericak-Vance, M., 2007) that ARMD has genetic and environmental links especially smoking.
Risks and Risk Reduction
From reviewing my Family Medical Pedigree it is easy to see that I have inherited the tendency towards and the conditions of hypertension, hypothyroidism, and arthritis. In addition I am at risk for ARMD and sarcoidosis which also has genetic tendencies. My physician is very proactive and has taken my family health history into consideration in providing my care. I have had an EKG and stress test, laboratory analysis for rheumatoid arthritis and annually I undergo tests to check for kidney function and cholesterol and routinely monitor my blood pressure. I see an ophthalmologist every year and hope that by reducing my risk factors for ARMD such as not smoking I do not succumb to it. Finally I am on medication for hypertension and hypothyroidism and I am happy to report both are well controlled. Considering lifestyle I have never smoked, and try to stay as active as possible with horseback riding and working and playing with my dogs. Another lifestyle change I should consider is diet; although I watch what I eat, I could do a much better job by eliminating saturated fats and losing 20 pounds.
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There are user friendly, easily accessible tools available on the internet that can assist everyone to create and record their family health history using a Family Medical Pedigree. The information gained can assist individuals to make informed decisions about their lifestyle and medical care. Olsen, S., Dudley-Brown, S., & McMullen, P. (2004) confirm ââ‚¬Å“Appropriately used, a family history generated pedigree can be one of the health care providers most powerful clinical tools for health risk identification and preventionââ‚¬(295).
Even the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin feels that accurate family medical history is important enough that she has created the Family Health History Initiative. This initiative has made recording health information accessible to everyone by providing a free online site to create your own Family Health Pedigree (www.surgeongeneral.gov). In summary by providing a Family Medical Pedigree and working collaboratively with your medical provider for proper screening, treatment, and lifestyle change you can decrease your risk for inherited diseases and preserve health.
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