Cathy Payne, USA TODAY
At year-end gatherings, relatives should think about passing along more than just the turkey and fixings at the dinner table. They can share information that can improve and even save lives.
The get-togethers offer an opportunity to gather family health history that can help doctors personalize medical care. For instance, you can ask a relative whether there is a history of diabetes or heart disease in the family. You also can find out if there is a relative to whom you can circle back at a later time for more information.
"It's a perfect time that we not only visit with our families, but also learn about our family health history," Surgeon General Regina Benjamin says.
The surgeon general's office offers My Family Health Portrait, a free, Web-based tool for organizing family health history. After inputting information, you can create and print a diagram and table to present to a health care provider. It is compatible with electronic health records.
"It can help your physician develop a personalized disease-prevention plan centered around you and your family health history," Benjamin says.
The information is not saved on a government computer or website. But you can save the data to a local storage area, such as your computer or thumb drive. You can continuously update it.
You also can make copies for family members. They can use the information to create their own graphical representations of the data.
Daniel Friedman, an electrophysiology cardiologist at Bradenton Cardiology Center in Florida, agrees that it is important to gather family health history.
Heart disease risk is determined by genetic, lifestyle and other factors, Friedman says. Sharing your family health history will give your physician a better understanding of any increased risk and ways to reduce it, he says.
To get your family's heart-health history, Friedman suggests finding out the type of heart disease, the age of onset and the treatment, such as surgery. He also suggests finding out about additional disorders or diseases that can make the initially diagnosed illness more severe or more likely to occur. Those are factors doctors call comorbidities, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, which tend to run in families.
Ways to get relatives to talk about medical history depend on the relationship and communication.
Friedman says that if it were his family, he would ask, "Do you have any regrets or anything you would change about your health over the last few years?"
Getting family members to talk about their health can help you as well as others.
The surgeon general says, "Learning about your family health history can be a gift to the next generation."