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Holiday Conversations: Learning About Your Family's Medical History

By LaVarne A. Burton

LaVarne Burton

LaVarne A. Burton is President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Kidney Fund (AKF), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to fight kidney disease through direct financial support to patients in need, health education, and prevention outreach. Ms. Burton has led AKF since October 2005, and today AKF is the nation’s leading source of charitable assistance to dialysis patients. Last year, 90,000 people—nearly 1 out of every 4 dialysis patients in the United States—received financial assistance from AKF for costs associated with kidney failure. Learn more at www.kidneyfund.org.

It’s that time of year again, and the holiday season is upon us. The tree has been decorated, the menorah is lit, and family get-togethers are just around the corner. While holiday reunions are a great way to bring the family together and reflect on the past year, they can also be plagued with awkward questions. Questions like: “Are you still single? When are you getting married? Did you get that job you were talking about?”

As you spend time with loved ones this holiday season, consider steering the conversation to a more important and productive topic: your family’s medical history. Connecting with family members during the holiday season and asking about their medical history can be a powerful way to identify and prevent chronic conditions that are prevalent in your family.

While awkward moments are part of life, asking about your family’s medical history doesn’t have to be. In fact, learning about a family illness early on can help you identify your risk factors and recognize early warning signs.

So as you’re catching up with relatives you haven’t seen in a while, why not ask them about their health and whether they have conditions that may run in the family? If you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, don’t worry. Below are a few questions to help get the conversation on family medical history going:

·         Are there any chronic conditions that seem to run in our family?

·         Do you have any of them?

·         What are some of the symptoms you had?

Who knows, your family might just get excited about learning and sharing this information. Being aware of the chronic conditions that run in the family can be a big step toward improving your own health, and the health of your loved ones.  For example, many people do not know that diabetes and high blood pressure can lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD), and as is the case with so many chronic illnesses, a leading risk factor for CKD is having a family history of the disease.

At the American Kidney Fund, we’re working to raise awareness about the preventable nature of CKD.  If your family has a history of CKD, it is important to monitor your own kidney health through simple medical tests. CKD is just one example; the same can be said for so many of the chronic illnesses that run in families.

Remember, your family can be an important tool for understanding the future of your own health. When getting together with family this holiday season, don’t be afraid to ask questions about your family’s medical history.

 

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