Knowing Your History

Image CaptionA complete family history can help a doctor diagnose a current illness and predict the probability of this illness or any possible future illnesses, making the past as important as the present in many ways.

Ochsner Health System Medical Genetics Section Head Dr. Dmitriy Niyazov said genetic testing directed by previous occurrences of certain family diseases can guide treatment and influence many medical decisions.

“Testing will help to take care of your health and find out what’s wrong with you,” Dr. Niyazov said.  “Looking at the same problems that family members have can give us an idea of what our patients have.”

“Sometimes, instead of testing a patient for a certain problem, I can actually test their family member who has already had the disease or met more criteria for the disease than the patient,” he said.  “In this case, we’d have a better chance of finding a genetic error in the family member being tested. We can then test the patient for this error and rule it in or out.”

Equally as important as using family history for diagnosis is the ability to use it for prevention.

Healthy people can also benefit from knowing their family history, Dr. Niyazov said.

“Even if it does not pertain to your health at this moment, it may be relevant down the line,” he said.  “If you have parents or grandparents who have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or some of those types of chronic problems, we may be able to analyze that and know if you are at risk.”

Women with a strong family history of breast cancer can start getting tested for breast cancer at 25 instead of 40, Dr. Niyazov said. Further, if a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer before the age 50, she could be at a much higher risk for ovarian cancer as well, which is generally more deadly and harder to screen for or diagnose. The risk for this can be reduced by knowing your family history and going in for early screenings.

In addition, males with a hereditary predisposition can have a higher risk for breast and prostate cancer, and they can pass the genetic predisposition on to their children, making this an equally important issue for men.

Regardless of your sex, age or personal history, Dr. Niyazov strongly recommends learning about your family history and taking the appropriate actions toward preventative health.

To learn more about what physical exams and tests are right for your age and gender, take the Ochsner Health Check.