ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Health officials say the holidays are the perfect time to talk about health history since many families are getting together. Knowing that history is not only important for you but for future generations as well.
Joelle and Rick Montzka of Anoka knew an important part of their family health history when they were deciding to have children. Joelle's grandfather had Becker Muscular Dystrophy. Joelle is a carrier.
She had a 50/50 chance of passing the gene. Their five-year-old son, Thomas, does have the disease.
Joelle said, "We were really prepared."
She calls Thomas a blessing saying, "He's very fun and he's very social, kind of a flirt."
There are other health issues in their family history too. Rick said "there's heart issues" on his side of the family. He added there's stroke and type 2 diabetes as well.
Kristin Oehlke, a genetics counselor in charge of the birth defects program at the Minnesota Department of Health, said it is important to record family health history.
Holiday gatherings are a great time to discuss it. Oehlke said while you may not want to discuss it over a big meal she recommends, "Letting people know that you're interested in this and opening the door to future conversations."
Oehlke helped create a tool offered by the Surgeon General called My Family Health Portrait. It's a tool you can use to list health issues of your various family members.
The information can only be stored on your computer but if you wish you can invite other family members to add to it as well.
Oehlke said it's important to not only list illnesses, but also the age of onset, symptoms, treatment and outcome.
A detailed family health history can help your doctor better diagnose symptoms, screen you earlier for diseases like breast or colon cancer, and in the case of autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease or type 2 diabetes, Oehlke said, "Having a family history of many of the chronic diseases, especially if you identify it earlier in life, can help you prevent them altogether."
The Montzka's believe knowing as much as you can about the past is important. Rick said, ""It's good to know that information so you can make decisions."
Joelle said medicine has advanced since her grandfather had the disease. And she said Thomas' form of muscular dystrophy is considered less severe than some others.
For those reasons they are optimistic about the future.
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