When your relatives get together over the holidays, it may be a good opportunity to investigate your family history, including its health history, suggests a genetics expert.
Talk to your grandparents and great-grandparents and make detailed notes about what they tell you about the health of their immediate family -- parents, siblings and children. Record names, birth dates, year of death and any health problems experienced by those people, said Lynn Holt, director of the School of Health Professions Genetic Counseling program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"The holidays are a great time to collect your family history. Most people don't know much about the family history beyond their first-degree relatives, their own parents and siblings," Holt said in a university news release.
Ask your older relatives if any of their siblings died during childhood and, if so, why? This type of information can be valuable.
"We sometimes hear people say they've been told their mother's brother dropped dead at age 20, for example," Holt said. "It's important to find out why; was it because of a genetic heart condition that you might have inherited, or is it simply that brother was guilty of some accident that nobody wants to talk about?"
You should also ask about health issues such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental health disorders and other common conditions.
The best way to glean this type of information is to speak individually with each older relative. Many would welcome the opportunity to share the family history and memories of deceased loved ones, Holt said.
Once you have your family health history, share it with your doctor in order to determine if you need to undergo evaluation for certain conditions.