ASK THE DOC: How does family history affect my risk levels?

QUESTION: How does my family history affect my risk for certain conditions?

ANSWER: Knowing your family history is an important way to help protect your own health and well-being. There are multiple disease states and medical conditions have a genetic component to them. A few examples include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, colon cancer, and breast cancer. Knowing what your personal risk is can help you make the right decisions in regards to your health to either help prevent yourself from acquiring health problems, delaying the disease onset or decreasing its overall negative impact that it can have on your life and well-being.

In regards to conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes- which can all increase someone’s risk of heart attack and stroke. If you know that you have a family history of these conditions and your risk of getting them is higher. It can help you to make better health decisions, like avoiding high fat/high cholesterol foods, sweets and carbohydrates and salt. Lifestyle changes can help to prevent someone from getting one of these disease,  delay the onset of the disease, or slow progression/reduce the sequelae that come from living with these health conditions.

When it comes to various cancers, knowing your family history can be important in regards to early detection/prevention. For example, if you have a 1st degree relative that has been diagnosed with colon cancer, that can change the timeline of when you need to begin your personal cancer screening with colonoscopies (starting age 40 or 10 years before the age that the family member got diagnosed) and can change the frequency of how often you need them (every 5 years instead of 10). This can help with early detection/prevention for you.

 This question from a reader was answered by Jessica Smith-Kelly, DO. She practices at Robert C. Byrd Clinic in Lewisburg.


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