Medical Family Tree

Dr. Karen Latimer discusses what you should know about your medical background.
5:57 | 12/05/11

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Transcript for Medical Family Tree
Let me go for doctor's appointment chances are -- have to fill out a form on your family's medical history but for many of us gathering this kind of information is not too easy. So what -- we need to know our medical history how is it used and what happens if we just don't know it. Joining us with more -- family practitioner and author of the -- yes five dot net doctor Karen Latimer got a lot of great to see you. I think it's so the family history now right there aren't more including our family already get complicated hey involving -- battery -- how important is knowing your family medical history. It's important it's part of a piece of the history of the whole -- should and it helps us assess the risk for certain diseases for certain conditions. And if there it is a pattern in -- family and that may Alter what we do for patient terms of recommendations and especially recommendations for screening tests. And most notably be colon cancer breast cancer is a strong family history. Often recommend that -- patient. Get screened earlier than the general population possibly more frequently or even with different types of tests rights so it's great for that genetic diseases if your family planning. And or pregnant you -- to know if they're any genetic diseases that run in your family need to speak to your will be about those things so it is so there are specific diseases or specific cancers let's say that it is helpful -- tonight the family history about but again. There are certain things would have no genetic background and so knowing your family's -- no guarantee. That you're going to be say that -- absolutely right it's not at all away week. Can't predict the future -- does again is help us assess risk right and it just as if you -- smoker or -- -- or obese or have an unhealthy diet that -- -- there that's also risk for certain things like cancers and heart disease and -- so it's just part of the puzzle -- isn't what a piece of the -- lies just you know part of what makes -- a person's risk and that it specifically how doctors will use your family's -- that's right right okay so. Let's say you need to collect this information from your family members and your lucky -- and that's your family members are still living and both sides of the family are around because. All of this is a rarity for a lot of people -- -- how do you then go about collecting this information well I think it's good to find the busy body in your family find the person either on your mother -- your father said both didn't do you get him to percentage DNA from both. Who would know the most and everyone has admitted that AMD with on -- of one in -- manner. But -- you wouldn't really be very clear about what you're doing and why you're doing its share your purpose with them so that they. Are more open -- -- and also tell them did you want to share this with the rest of the families of one person doesn't actually very helpful for everybody. And -- -- sensitive and when -- respect privacy and and also often is very difficult. For people to talk about these things that you want to be a good listener and prepare yourself you become of the pen and Paper and write add anything they say it might pop up -- its. Does seem important at the time but it might start to you know be put together and is Melissa specific questions would recommend that funding even if you find this -- this and anybody who knows yet when everyone died. Issue may not know exactly what they had or -- -- so should you specifically ask -- -- aunt Sally did anyone in our family have breast cancer than anyone have. You know a heart attack or should you just. You know -- in general I don't exist at the time with the -- and make some time for -- and sometimes it's better even to do it as a questionnaire to handed to somebody to help them fill it out or do with not face to face him just in writing yeah opportunities sometimes people more open but what you wanna do really is look at three generations. And I would go to person by person I would take the time to do this this is not something you have time to do in your doctor's office but certainly something you might have time to -- of a cup of coffee. And you wanna say what -- grandma died of what Graham pot calling what did they died of what each -- they when they died of it. And what other conditions did they have going in because they may have. Ultimately died of breast cancer but they may have had very or serious heart disease you wanna get the whole picture and it's again not always easy but one look -- aunts uncles grandparents siblings cousins rights and what exactly. What is the information that we should include I mean. That's male or female al-Qaeda -- age agent -- -- diagnosis. Agent's death. Any mental health which is extremely important a lot of mental health conditions do run in families do have genetic predisposition and especially depression depression schizophrenia. Dependency issues like alcoholism runs in families and these are the things of people don't wanna talk about but especially I find almost what my children these are the things I -- announced July beyond past that point but they may not be -- you want and they'll keep children at risk. And so do I think that pregnancy issues those are some of the questions -- the people don't want to talk about and especially when it's in a family they kind of wanna keep them hidden alcoholism and depression so I'm incidents carefully get bad information out and I think -- the way to do it is really just to let them know why you're doing you're not doing it because you're being nosy you just want to have to be -- -- you wanna be able to tell somebody else about it you'd be doing it because. You want to protect your children be. -- family history really helps us. You know did. Early early detection early diagnosis may -- not preventing a disease necessarily but the -- you can detect something the better including mental health and dependency issues and -- have some words of comfort over so many of us out there who may -- we have no idea. One -- of our family where I come from their so many families these days that. No one's reproductive assistance of some kind or another so people shouldn't worry if they don't have the full picture now with your adopted evening -- -- -- you have an adopted child and this really is just part of the whole picture -- I do think it will be important to talk to your doctor about the fact that you don't know. Yes because that may also change things and they didn't you made see that you want to go for a cardiac screening earlier -- because you don't know your family history store and maybe not but it's all very individual thing but it's not the be all end all. So don't be lulled into residences sense of confidence because you have no family you don't know struck -- history and -- terrible diseases and don't be terrified. Because you do. And don't worry if you don't have any history at all it's a great thing to have it's part of the puzzle it doesn't tells the whole story though he's just he's absolutely thank you so much Africa and -- --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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