Genetic and Rare Diseases Brought to Light for National Family Health History Day

Every year, families travel across town and from around the country to be together for the holidays. This year, while you’re sharing pumpkin pie and Black Friday Sale flyers, take time to talk to your family about the genetic predispositions to health conditions you may share. Many rare diseases have a genetic component that people discover at family reunions.

You may know the stories of how your great-great-great grandfather came to the United States, but do you know your family’s medical history when it comes to diseases–rare or otherwise? If so, you’re in the minority. Only one-third of all US families have an accurate sense of their family’s medical inheritance.

November 24 is National Family History Day. It was started by the U.S Surgeon General back in 2004 as a way to encourage families to share and discuss their family history.

When you think of a family medical history, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and stroke come to mind. But there are thousands of disorders and diseases passed down through our genetic fabric. Many of these inherited characteristics –including many rare diseases — may go undetected until serious problems arise. There are thousands of rare genetic diseases such as tyrosinemia, cystic fibrosis and hereditary angioedema (HAE), to name a few. Many have screening tests that can help the carrier identify the condition before it is passed to the next generation. Often, if detected, life-saving treatment can be provided.

So this year, while your loved ones are gathered round to enjoy food and football and fun, spend a little time chronicling the less-than-fun, but oh-so-important family medical history. Genetic testing can also be done to pinpoint various conditions.

To make record-keeping easier, the US Surgeon General provides this online Family Health Portrait that you can fill out, save and distribute to your family members. When you take a proactive step towards safeguarding the health of your family, you’ll have even more for which to be thankful.

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