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    For one patient, sharing her family medical history led to lifesaving care

Stephanie Van Doren and her family

When Stephanie Van Doren first visited Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida, she was seeking care for digestive issues. But after hearing Van Doren’s family medical history and completing a clinical evaluation, gastroenterologist Timothy Woodward, M.D. recognized that she may also be at risk for a potentially fatal heart condition, aortic dissection.

Genetic testing confirmed that risk and provided lifesaving information to Van Doren and her family.

Timothy Woodward, M.D.

“Because Ms. Van Doren knew and shared her family medical history, we were able to identify and diagnose her risk for a hereditary condition that could have been life-threatening if undetected,” says Dr. Woodward.  “Working with our genetic counselors and cardiologists, she and her family had genetic testing and are now receiving individualized care, tailored to their needs.”

As you spend time with relatives over the holiday, take time to learn more about your family medical history – it could uncover important information to help you manage your health.

Whom in your family should you ask?

When evaluating a patient’s risk for disease, physicians and genetic counselors will ask for health information for three generations of an individual’s family. Build your own family medical history by talking with these family members:

  • Grandparents
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Aunts, uncles and first cousins
  • Children

What health information you need to know

Ask family members about these topics:

  • History of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and cancer (specify type of cancer)
  • History of inherited conditions such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia
  • Cause and age of death
  • Birth defects
  • Family’s ethnic background – some conditions, such as diabetes, can be prevalent in certain ethnic groups

Have an impact on health – yours and your family's

With information about your family’s medical history, your physician can determine what steps need to be taken to maintain your health, including screening tests or lifestyle changes that could help prevent any diseases that you may be more susceptible to developing.

At the same time, remember to share information about your own health conditions with your family – the results could be lifesaving.

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