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Family trees and health histories: What’s important to share with your doctor?

Much like cherished family recipes or heirlooms, knowing your family’s health history is a precious gift.

Sharing your family’s health history with your primary care doctor can be a crucial step in safeguarding your well-being. By understanding your family’s medical background, your doctor can work with you on early detection and intervention strategies, potentially preventing serious health issues down the line.

Dr. Michelle Cervin is a family physician who is accepting new patients at three locations.

Dr. Michelle Cervin of Three Rivers Health Family Care White Pigeon explains what kinds of family health information might be important for you to know and how that information can benefit you.

“If you are going to see a new doctor who is going to be taking a history, completing a physical to examine you and getting to know you, it is helpful to talk with your family members to know what your family history is,” Dr. Cervin said.

“When looking at the family history, I personally and generally am interested in getting information about the grandparents, parents, children, brothers and sisters of the patient.”

She added that most primary care doctors gather familial information about diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancers and neurological diseases. Plus, knowing about inherited diseases in your family can help with appropriate screening and early recognition of symptoms.

“Some diseases are expected as we age — for example, it’s not uncommon for someone in their 70s or 80s to have coronary artery disease. However, it is not expected for someone to have a heart attack in their 30s,” Dr. Cervin explained.

Knowing the age of onset of some conditions affecting your relatives can influence recommended screening routines for you, so be sure to gather those details and share them with your primary care provider.

“For example, if you have a first-degree family member like a parent or sibling with colon cancer, you should start screening 10 years before their age of diagnosis,” Dr. Cervin said. “So, if your family member was diagnosed at age 50, we might start your colon cancer screening at age 40 which is five years before the current recommendation for routine screening.”

Lifestyle habits of your family could also impact your own health, so your doctor may want to know about diet, exercise habits and whether you have lived with someone who smokes.

“Second-hand smoke inhalation can lead to allergies, asthma, ear infections and even cancer and heart disease,” Dr. Cervin said.

Your well-being is worth investing time to learn about your family tree, and your doctor wants to support you by providing outstanding care.

“It’s important for a patient to have a trusting relationship with their primary care provider because the patient may need to share information that they may not want to discuss with everyone,” Dr. Cervin said. “Patients need to feel comfortable asking questions of their provider so they understand their diagnosis, the care options available and so that they feel comfortable following the advice given by their doctor.”

Empower yourself and your Beacon healthcare team by starting a conversation about your family’s health history today.

Let our Beacon doctors care for you

No matter your need or age, our primary care doctors are here to treat your medical needs. If you’re looking for a new family doctor, Beacon Health System is here to serve you. Use our provider search tool to find a physician.

About Laura Bailey

Laura is a communications specialist at Beacon Health System. She enjoys sharing stories with the community about the talented team members at Beacon and winning against the computer in Scrabble.