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Diseases that run in families

Do you know your family medical history? Maybe you know about the big things, but would be surprised to learn that your great-grandmother and her three sisters all died from breast cancer, even though it didn’t show up in your mom. Or maybe you vaguely know that your father and his brother have ‘blood pressure problems’ but you’re not sure if it’s high or low, or how bad it is.

There are certain diseases that run in families. Some of these are genetic conditions, others are because a family shares the same environmental factors (area they live in, type of food they eat, and so on). Some of the more common conditions are:

Breast Cancer
There are two genes called Breast Cancer Gene 1 and Breast Cancer Gene 2, which can be passed down in families. If members of your family, especially our mother, daughter or sister, has had breast cancer your should have regular breast checks.

Ovarian Cancer
This can be caused by mutations in the breast cancer genes. If your mother, daughter or sister has had ovarian cancer you have a 5% risk of developing it in your lifetime. You should have regular pap smears to increase your chance of early detection. Learn more at Ovarian Caner National Alliance.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
High blood pressure can be managed with medication, diet and exercise, but many people don’t even know they have it until it’s too late. If you have a parent with high blood pressure, then you should monitor yours with regular check-ups.

Malignant Melanoma
This is the most serious form of skin cancer – a mole that has turned cancerous. Some families have Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma (FAMMM). If members of your family have had melanoma, or they have very many moles (more than 50) then it is a good idea to have yourself screened for skin cancer every four to six months. If you have moles and any seem to change, become painful or inflamed, then have them checked immediately.

High Cholesterol
You can manage your cholesterol levels through diet and exercise, but if you aren’t monitoring your cholesterol and you have a parent or sibling who developed heart disease before the age of 55, you could be at risk. Get your cholesterol checked regularly.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can run in families, so if you have family with either type of diabetes you should keep your blood sugar levels in check. Type 1 diabetes unfortunately can’t be prevented, but Type 2 can, with a healthy diet and exercise.

A family history of glaucoma puts you at a higher risk because there may be a genetic link. Glaucoma can’t be completely prevented, but it can be treated.

If there is a family history of depressive disorders, it may be genetic, though the disease is not always passed on and can develop without any family history.

There seems to be a slightly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s if your parent or sibling has it.

Allergies and Asthma
If one parent suffers from allergies there is a 50% chance that their child will have the same problems. If both parents are allergic, there is a 75% chance their child will be too. Asthma has been closely linked to allergies – most children with asthma also have allergies.

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