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FOR RELEASE: November 21 , 2006
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Know Your Family’s Medical History
Family Health History

The holiday season is a good time for families to get together and enjoy each other but it is also a great time for families to learn more about their health history. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) 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.

Family Health History Holiday Season 2006 in Oklahoma, is a reminder to encourage families to gather important family health history during the holiday season. Initially, the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative was launched in 2004 by the U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH, in cooperation with other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This year the OSDH and the Genetics Education Committee of Oklahoma are launching a holiday card campaign to encourage families to use the time with their families to find out more about their family health history.

“The holidays are 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 health conditions. It provides information that can be used to develop a health plan to assist a patient with lifestyle changes that may prevent health problems. It also allows the doctor to monitor for health conditions so early diagnosis and treatment can be achieved,” said Dr. John Mulvihill, geneticist at the OU Medical Center and OGAC chair.

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, that is, 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 change your lifestyle to help 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. Make it a part of your search for your family tree history, write down the information and share the medical findings with your family health care provider,” Dr. Mulvihill added.

For more information about the Surgeon General’s family history project, please visit the web site www.hhs.gov/familyhistory. The OSDH Genetics Program will also have helpful information about family history taking at www.health.ok.gov/program/gp.


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