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The Importance of Family Health History

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By: Karen Litwack and Elayne Goldman

November is Family Health History Month. When families gather at Thanksgiving, they may notice that they share common habits, lifestyles, and physical traits from holiday traditions to Jewish heritage to eye color. These commonalities are often passed down through the generations, both biologically through DNA, and socially through learned behaviors. Diseases that run in families are often connected to certain genes. Some diseases, such as Tay-Sachs, are based on single gene mutations, while others are based on a combination of genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Many genetic mutations occur more frequently in specific ethnic groups than in the general population. Therefore, knowing information about your ethnicity and your ancestors' countries of origin can help you determine if you or your family might be at risk. 

The National Office of Public Health Genomics found that 96 percent of Americans believe that family health history is important to health but only 30 percent have tried to organize their family health history information. The Surgeon General's annual Family Health History Month campaign is designed to encourage people to gather their family health history and discuss their findings with their healthcare provider so that this information can be added to their medical records and used to guide shared decisions about care. Today, an abundance of online tools have emerged to make tracking and sharing family health history information easier than ever.

Family health history information can provide benefits that go beyond individual health care, and knowing that history and identifying family members is just the first step along the continuum of care. This Thanksgiving start a new tradition. Pass on your family's health history to your children, grandchildren and those you care about most. Give thanks for the blessing of good health, and help yourself and others by sharing your information with your healthcare provider and researchers so that our community will benefit now and in future generations. 

Surgeon General: My Family Health Portrait: http://1.usa.gov/1xDsG4p

My Family Health Portrait is an online tool that makes it easy for you to record your family health history. The tool is easily accessible and simple to complete. It assembles your information and makes a "pedigree" (family tree) that you can download. It is private and does not keep your information. The tool gives you a health history that you can shore with family members and/or send to your healthcare provider.

Genetic Alliance Family Health History Tools: http://bit.ly/1LaRu8F


Affordable, Accessible Genetic Screening in Illinois

Our affordable, accessible carrier screening program uses advanced technology to provide comprehensive screening for Jewish and interfaith couples. Visit our Get Screened page to learn more and register.


Planning for a Family?

1 in 4 Jews carries a potentially devastating genetic disorder that could pass down to a child. Make carrier screening part of your family planning process. 


Do You Know What's In Your Genes?

What is the most valuable gift you can give to your family? The gift of good health! There are many health conditions that run in families. Knowing your family health history can alert you to the potential risk for a variety of genetic disorders . Talk to your relatives for warning signs and assess your risk for hereditary cancers.

Did you know: Ashkenazi Jews are 10 TIMES more likely to have BRCA mutations, which significantly increases lifetime risks for hereditary cancers, so what does this heightened risk mean for you? Click here to learn more .