The WellSpan Spotlight

Health and wellness

Pass the turkey and tell me about grandma's heart condition

Pass the turkey and tell me about grandma's heart condition

You might think talking about medical conditions at the Thanksgiving dinner table will give you heartburn, but knowing your family's health history can actually be beneficial to your health.

"There are many hereditary conditions and diseases such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol," said Edward Schuurman, a physician assistant at WellSpan Family Medicine, Waynesboro. "By knowing what conditions run in your family, you can learn about diseases that could affect you and what you can do to prevent them."

While spending time with the family this holiday season, medical professionals encourage you to ask important questions about your family's health. It doesn't have to be at the dinner table. But find time to have the talk.

Ask your family about:

  • Conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
  • Any serious diseases such as cancer or stroke. Find out what type of cancer a family member had.
  • The age of family members when they were diagnosed with a condition, if it is known.

"You'll want to focus these questions on relatives who share your genetics. Relatives like parents, siblings, and grandparents are a great place to start," Schuurman said. "If you were diagnosed with a condition, be sure to share that information too, so others have a record of family health."

Act on the information you gather

You can't change your genes, but you can make changes to your lifestyle that can help.

"Unhealthy behaviors like smoking, not exercising, and eating unhealthy foods can cause many of the same conditions that run in families," Schuurman said. "If you know you are at risk for heart disease because of your family history, you can use that information to become more active and eat more heart-healthy foods."

Make sure to talk to your provider too. Any information, even if it is incomplete, can help your provider set up a care plan for you.

"For example, if a young woman's mother or grandmother had breast cancer, we can talk to her about getting a mammogram before she's 40," he said.

WellSpan offers genetic counseling and genomics in a variety of medical specialties to help patients understand their risk of certain inheritable conditions and offers paths to prevention and treatment. To read more about genetic counseling at WellSpan visit Genetic Counseling - WellSpan Health