Updated: Apr 2
A complete family and medical history is crucial to your doctor's diagnosis and treatment of your medical condition. Don't leave anything out.
If you're like many, you've always wondered why it matters if you provide your doctor with a complete family and medical history. Why is it important? When you go to your doctor for routine check-ups, or if you develop any health issues, it's extremely important that you give your doctor a full family and medical history. Providing just pieces of information instead of giving the entire picture is crucial to your treatment. Some people think that they don’t need to provide some information because it is a “private matter”. You better think it twice, as all this information helps in your diagnosis and treatment.
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Your Family and Medical History are Important
Your family and medical history matter more than you could imagine. Let’s explore several reasons why you always should provide a complete family and medical history to your healthcare provider.
1. Your family history helps your doctor identify diseases for which you may have a genetic predisposition. This is the reason you are always asked if you have a history of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or thyroid problems, to mention a few.
2. Your family history provides your doctor with important clues to the lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of developing diseases and medical conditions. For this reason, it is common to ask about your dietary habits, exercise, use of alcohol or recreational drugs, and smoking.
3. Your family history helps your doctor determine the type of tests you need. For example, although prostate cancer tends to occur in persons that don’t have a family member that had suffered from it, if someone has a father or brother with a history of prostate cancer, the risk of developing the disease increases more than double.
4. Your family history gives your doctor information about the effectiveness of treatment and screening options. As a physician, I can tell you that we don’t want to be repeating ineffective treatments with our patients. So, it is important to mention in your history your previous treatments and if they worked or not. It is very helpful to carry a Medical Tracker where you can track everything from allergies to surgeries, medications, etc., and bring it with you to your medical appointments. Your doctor will be thrilled.
5. It can help your doctor give you a more accurate diagnosis. The more information we have, the better is to reach a diagnosis. Sometimes, that “little” detail that for some reason you did not want to mention gives us the clue about what is happening in your case and why.
6. It can help your doctor develop a treatment plan tailored to you and your health needs. Not only we can diagnose you faster and with more precision, but having a complete history makes it easier for us to provide you with a plan of care that works.
7. It can help your doctor avoid prescribing medications that are not right for you. This is a very important point. Your history gives us information that is essential to determine if a medication can help you or if it has to be completely avoided because of a contraindication or a negative interaction with other medications that you are taking. And this includes providing information about not only your over-the-counter and prescribed medications, but vitamins/minerals and any supplements or natural remedies that you are taking.
8. It can help your doctor identify potential complications of your condition. A simple example is allergies. Let’s say you only mention allergies to medications but omit other types of allergies, like allergies to latex. If you don’t mention your latex allergies, you are at risk of experiencing a very unfortunate moment if we use latex gloves with you. Another example is when we prescribe medication for pain, but you never let us know you were taking herbal remedies. Some herbal remedies interfere with the medication’s action to relieve pain, so the treatment won’t work.
9. It can help your doctor explain the results of genetic testing. Having the family and medical background makes it easier to explain to the patient why he/she is having a specific result in their genetic testing and the probability that a particular trait can be passed to the offspring.
10. Your answers help your doctor know what to look out for in the future. This is helpful, for example, if you are honest about your dietary habits. In this example, having that information can let us guide you about following a healthy lifestyle and preventing, or at least delaying, the appearance of symptoms of diseases that can affect your heart. Another example is when patients don’t want to mention that they smoke because they do it just occasionally. The same happens when they drink alcohol.
11. You'll be able to make informed health decisions. By providing a full family and medical history, you can receive several treatment alternatives, and you will know what and why you should not be offered another option. This is very classic; a patient comes for an ailment and wants to be prescribed the same medication or have the same treatment that a friend had. To make the best decision, you need information about what can work for you, not what worked for another person.
12. Sometimes, it can make the difference between life and death. This can go from a lethal allergic reaction to a prescription mistake, misdiagnosis, etc. Everything has to be considered when a patient is evaluated. When a patient omits essential information, it can be the difference between living or dying of something that could have been avoided.
To summarize, many people know they need to discuss their family and medical history with their doctor. But others aren't as sure just how important that information is. It's important to provide your doctor with information about your family and medical history so that you receive the best care. A family and medical history is sometimes the only way a doctor can understand the cause of an illness, especially if you have a rare disease or inherited an unusual trait. Be honest with your doctor, no matter how worried you might be about revealing your personal information.
And as always, follow a healthy lifestyle, and come back for the next topic.
Medical History. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534249/ Accessed on June 20, 2022.
Problems for clinical judgement: 2. Obtaining a reliable past medical history. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC80879/ Accessed on June 20, 2022.
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