Saturday 03 January 2009

FAMILY MEDICAL TREES CAN LEAD TO HEALTHY FUTURE

By Linda Shrieves, Orlando Sentinel

When Elaine Powell's husband started having heart problems, she remembered his father died of a heart attack. That left her wondering if her husband had inherited a heart condition.

As a genealogist, Powell knew where to find the answers. Using death certificates and obituaries, she built a medical family tree for her husband. It turned out his family didn't have a long trail of heart disease.

But that search inaugurated another quest: Powell began researching her family's medical tree and discovered that her paternal grandfather died of colon cancer in his 40s. "I told my doctor, and she told me that it was very important because they'll screen me early," says Powell, 61, of Orlando.

Genealogy has long been used to trace family histories, but now some are using it to learn whether they're at risk for certain diseases.

"In some ways, family history is the cheapest, most widely available and most proven type of genetic test we have," said Dr. Alan Guttmacher, acting director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

By considering family history, doctors can look for inherited diseases and practice preventive medicine. The notion is so popular that the U.S. Surgeon General's Office has set up a Web site — familyhistory.hhs.gov — that helps people create a medical family tree.

"Sometimes people think genealogy is not very important, that it's just a hobby," says Drew Smith, a Florida genealogist who lectures about medical family trees. "And yet, we always read about people who have illnesses and diseases that run in families. The truth is, for some people, this is a matter of life and death."

Start by asking all your living relatives how their parents and grandparents died.

After that, it's time to start searching for records. The best records, says Powell, are death certificates, which usually list cause of death. You'd need as much of the following information as you can find: the relative's full name, state where he or she died, and city or county.

Your family's medical history does not need to be traced that far back. For doctors and geneticists, it's most important to include three generations: yours; your parents; and your grandparents.

Source: sunsentinal.com

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