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FOR RELEASE: November 17 , 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Know Your Family’s Medical History
Family Health History Week in Oklahoma, November 21 - 27

The holiday season is a good time for families to get together and enjoy each other and it is also a great time for family members to share their health history. The Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Genetics Advisory Council (OGAC) advise that with today’s early detection and prevention programs, asking simple questions and writing down the health problems that have occurred in the family over the years can help save lives and prevent serious illnesses.

Gov. Brad Henry has proclaimed Nov. 21 - 27, 2005, as Family Health History Week in Oklahoma to encourage families to gather important family health history. The U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative was launched last year by U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH, in cooperation with other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Thanksgiving is a great time to remind families that family medical histories are important tools that doctors can use to prevent health problems. Doctors are better able to meet the health care needs of their patients if they are aware of a patient’s risk for certain disorders. It provides information that can be used to develop a health plan to assist a patient with lifestyle changes that may prevent health problems and allows the doctor to screen for health conditions so early diagnosis and treatment can be achieved. Both activities can significantly diminish or avoid health problems,” said Dr. John J. Mulvihill, geneticist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and OGAC chairman.

Family members share their genes, environments, lifestyles, and habits. Just as traits, such as eye color, often run in a family, conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cancer and heart disease can run in families. Key features of a family history that may increase a person’s risk for health problems include:

  • Health problems or conditions that occur at an earlier age than expected – 10 to 20 years before most people would experience the condition.
  • Health problems or conditions in more than one close relative.
  • Combinations of health problems or conditions that occur in the same individual and run in the family, such as breast and ovarian cancer or heart disease and diabetes.

If your family has one of more of these features, your family history may hold important clues about your risk for health problems and allow you to prevent health problems and perform health screenings for early detection and treatment of genetic conditions.

“To learn about your family history, ask questions, talk at family gatherings and look at death certificates and family medical records. Collect information from your relatives about major medical conditions, causes of death, age of disease onset and age at death, and ethnic background. Write down the information and share it with your doctor,” Dr. Mulvihill added.

For more information about the Surgeon General’s family history project, please visit this Web site: www.hhs.gov/familyhistory. The Genetics Program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health will also have helpful information about family history taking at www.health.ok.gov/program/gp.

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