This week we have the first article in our new Eneclann expert series. Fiona Fitzsimons discusses one of the most important reasons to begin to explore your family history, to identify potential health risks.

At some time or other, most of us have called upon our ancestry to explain how physical traits have been passed down the family line – to explain why someone is tall or short, to explain their hair/ eye or skin colour, or even to account for where ‘those ears’ or ‘that nose’ originated.  However genetic inheritance can also be a major indicator of health problems.

Even as our knowledge of genetics has advanced, medical science has begun to look at the use of ‘family health history’ as a way to trace potential medical conditions within the extended family.  The U.S. Centre for Disease Control states that tracing your family history is more accurate even than genetic tests, in tracing the potential risk of developing a particular condition.

You don’t need a professional genealogist to prepare a family health history – in fact this is something best done within the family, because it requires discussion of sometimes intimate details of family illnesses.

Ideally, you should compile information on your family across three generations.  Start by sitting down with some of your older relatives and explain that you want to create a record of any potential health problems that run in the family. Don’t just rely on conversations to create a family health history.  You need to build on what you learn in conversation, with information from the civil death records. In Ireland you can access these at the General Registers Office. As you compile your research look for the individual’s cause of death and also the duration of their final illness.  Look too for evidence of sudden or unexplained deaths. These may signal undiagnosed conditions.

Once you’ve completed your family health history across three generations, you should take it to your G.P. and ask your doctor to include it as part of your medical history. You should also bear in mind that a family health history is never “completed” and that you’ll need to keep it updated over the years.

A family health history is part of modern preventative medicine.  Knowledge of potential health risks within your extended family can help early detection and treatment for illnesses.  This can make all the difference.

For more information visit the U.S. Centre for Disease Control & Prevention’s family history public health initiative website.

Fiona Fitzsimons