Why do you need to know it?
Given the number of people who have health problems, it would be easy to assume that these individuals would be well versed in their health history. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in the majority of situations. Health history is vital for everyone to know, not just those who already have health conditions. So, what is health history? Why is it so important? What can you do to find out yours?
Every adult should know his or her health history. Your medical history is comprised of two parts: your personal health history and your family health history. Your personal health history provides information about any health problems you’ve ever had. This is when a doctor collects data from you and other sources about your physical status as well as your psychological, social and sexual function. The data often includes your current chief complaint, which is the history of your present illness, an account of your previous illnesses, any health-promoting behaviors you participate in, allergies, transfusions, immunizations, screening test results and prior hospitalizations. Sometimes, your occupational history may be included. Your family health history has details about health problems any of your blood relatives have had during their lifetimes. This is a complete record of information from three generations of blood relatives from both your mother and father’s families. The list should consist of your parents, siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, great-grandparents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, children and grandchildren. Even if any of these relatives have died, their health information is important to obtain. Do not include people who aren’t blood relatives, such as your spouse, adopted children/parents/siblings, stepchildren/step-siblings or relatives who marry into the family. All of the material you gather gives your doctor important clues about what’s going on with your health by providing a foundation on which they make a diagnosis, plan for management of the diagnosis, issue treatment/care and make any follow-up observations.
We know that a gene is the basic physical, functional unit of heredity. Therefore, genetic factors can play a significant role in the development of a disease since it might be caused by an abnormality in your genome. In addition, families have many factors in common besides genes, such as environment and lifestyle. All of these together can provide evidence toward which medical conditions may be present in your family. Some diseases often run in families, such as heart disease, diabetes, breast/ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, colorectal cancer, asthma, dementia, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. Any of those and the following diseases and conditions should definitely be listed on your family health history: ADHD, alcoholism, allergies, arthritis, bipolar disorder, any cancers, Alzheimer’s, depression, glaucoma, hearing loss, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, learning disabilities, miscarriage/toxemia, stroke/aneurysm, surgeries and vision loss. It’s essential it keep in mind that even if you have relatives with certain medical conditions, doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely develop that condition. Conversely, if your family doesn’t have a history of a disorder, you may still be at risk of developing it. This is the result of your lifestyle, personal medical history and other factors influencing your likelihood of getting the disease. Also, you may be unaware of family members conditions and some family members could’ve died before they had a chance to develop a chronic condition. While you aren’t able change your genetic makeup, knowing your family health history can help you reduce your risk of acquiring health problems. People who have a family history of disease are the most likely to benefit from lifestyle changes and early screening tests. In many cases, adopting a healthier lifestyle can significantly decrease your risk. When aware of family health history, doctors can order screening tests to be done earlier than is usually recommended. This can help detect diseases, like cancer, at an early stage or detect disease risk factors, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can be treated to diminish the chances of getting a disease.
Easiest way to get information about family medical history is to talk to relatives about their health. You can do this at family gatherings or call them on the phone. Be sure to explain why you are gathering the information and offer to share anything that you learn. This will increase the chances of them sharing their information with you. Part of your family health history will include relatives who have died. You can ask living relatives who may know the details or if needed, and you have access to, death certificates and family medical records you can use these to provide insight into the deceased family member’s health history. The information you collect should include any major medical conditions and causes of death, age of disease onset and age at death and ethnic background. It is especially vital to know if a disease occurred at an earlier age than expected, a disease is present in more than one close relative, a disease that doesn’t usually affect a certain gender is present in that gender or a certain combination of diseases exist within the family. If you are adopted, it’s still important to get any information you can about your birth family’s medical record. Each state has different rules, but most allow adopted people to access these details once they are adults. Once you have the information, be sure to write it down, keep it up-to-date and share it with your doctors regularly. This will help them to assess your disease risk based on your family history and other risk factors, recommend lifestyle changes to help prevent disease and prescribe screening tests to detect disease early. Also, be sure to share the information you gather with your siblings, children and grandchildren. If a relative doesn’t have any health problems, it’s still important to include them in your family health history, just put their age, gender, how they’re related and the fact they don’t have any health issues. If this changes in the future, be sure to update your record. Also, it’s important to understand that older relatives, especially those who may have already died, may have listed a disease or condition that was historically called something different than what it’s called today. So, if you need to, refer to a list of disease names now versus what they are called in the past in order to be able to use the most current title of the disease or condition.
Once you provide your health history to your doctor, it becomes part of your medical record. This is why it’s vital to update your doctor with any changes to your health history. Medical records are comprised of the information that you provide regarding your history, prior care you’ve received and your current diagnosis/status. This is used by your doctors and facilities you visit to create a personalized treatment plan. It should list any significant illnesses and medical conditions, biographical data, such as any history of alcohol use, drug abuse and smoking, physical exams, allergies, lab/test results and any current/past medications with any adverse reactions, side effects and how well they are working, and preventive therapies, like immunizations and screening results. Also, it should include dates, times, all doctors who are involved in your care and any admittance and discharge reports from a hospital/facility. Unfortunately, these medical records are often separate making it easy for information to be lost. While digital medical records databases are continuing to grow and this is helping healthcare become more efficient and cost-effective, which results in better patient outcomes, it isn’t where it needs to be yet. This is why having a personal health record can be beneficial.
By have your own personal record, you can combine all of the information that is spread out among various doctors and facilities into a single, more comprehensive medical record. Since you are in charge of it, it’s always available when you need it. By having it with you when you go to each doctor’s office, you can ensure that they have the most up-to-date information, which helps them to provide you with the best possible care. In addition, you have ability to review and understand your medical record whenever it’s convenient for you. This will help you to manage not only your health, but health insurance claims, taxes and other legal matters. In order to have a thorough personal medical record, you should include several important pieces of information. This would be any diagnoses, the dates you were diagnosed, copies of any test results, complete treatment information (including starts and end dates), treatment results (encompassing any complications or side effects), dates/details of any major illness, family medical history, details of past physical exams, complete contact information for all doctors you are currently seeing and a schedule for follow-up care. Once you have this information, you can put it in any format that works best for you, such as a file folder or three-ringed binder. Also, there are more and more online resources that are available where you can enter your information and allow access to your family members and doctors. By having your health information located all in one place, it makes it easy for you to keep track of your medical information.
An area that most people don’t think about when discussing health history is the dentist. However, now more than ever, we are coming to realize the interconnectedness of our body systems and how this impacts our health. The health of your oral cavity can significantly influence your overall health. For instance, people who are diabetic or have heart issues are more susceptible towards having periodontal disease. Also, patients who have a history of a joint replacement are increased risk of infection to that joint if they have dental work done. In order to prevent this, your dentist needs to know about your joint replacement so they can order a prophylactic cycle of antibiotic before they provide any dental treatment. This will help to prevent bacteria from your mouth from entering your bloodstream, which can infect your new joint. Also, if your dentist isn’t aware of your medical history, you could have an allergic reaction or other complications.
It is essential to understand that your health history will never be “completed,” so just keep it updated the best you can. As family members are diagnosed with a condition or disease, born or die, you will need to revise your history accordingly. The good news is by knowing your health history, you’ll have an understanding of your risk level for hereditary diseases and disorders and can take steps to prevent them from occurring, be able to keep better track of your health conditions and medications, have the ability to alert family members who may be at risk for a disease and be a better patient and caregiver. In the event of an emergency, knowing your health history can mean the difference between life and death.