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Women: Family Medical History May Predict Your Health's Future

Knowing your family's medical history is important, but many women may not know that learning about their mother's health history may be the key to predicting their own health prospects. Our health correspondent, Dr. Emily Senay, has some questions that women may want to ask their mothers.

Don't most people know that it's important to learn about their family's health history?

I think that most people know that they should ask their parents about their family's medical history, but many of them only focus on asking about heart disease and cancer. For women, that means asking about breast cancer. But, they should also be aware of their family's history with other types of cancer like ovarian cancer and bowel cancer. In addition to being concerned about how much heart disease and cancer runs in a family, there are other health issues that women should talk to their mothers about.

You have some specific questions that women should ask their mothers that they may not have thought about. The first one is: "Have you ever suffered from depression or anxiety?" Why is this important?

Because depression and anxiety can be caused by genetic factors. Some research has indicated that women are twice as susceptible to depression as men who had relatives who suffered with depression.

The next question a woman should ask her mother is: "Have you had a miscarriage or a difficult pregnancy?"

If your mother had more than two miscarriages, that can be a sign of a hereditary problem. A condition called pre-eclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy, runs in families. (It can be inherited from either parent.) It can slow the growth of the baby and may cause stillbirth. About 5% of women develop this condition during their first pregnancy.

The next question is: "Have you had a skin growth removed?"

Your mother may have had a suspicious mole removed, but she may have forgotten about it. Find out what type of skin growth it was and if it was cancerous. You might think that if it were serious you would know, but not necessarily. There are different types of skin cancer and they can all be family related. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and it can be deadly. Someone with a family history of melanoma is three times more likely to develop it than someone who doesn't have it in their family.

The next question is: "Have you broken any bones or shrunk in height?"

This can be an indication of osteoporosis. If you find out that your mother has lost some of her height or is prone to breaking bones, you are vulnerable to developing it. You should talk to your doctor about getting a bone density check. Women need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, which can be obtained by drinking a half-pint of milk or eating a cup of yogurt or an ounce of cheese.

Here's last question that we will talk about this morning. Ask yur mother: "How much weight have you gained since you were 18?"

Finding out the history of weight gain in your family will help you determine if you have to be more aggressive about controlling your weight. Ask your mother at what age she may have started gaining and how much trouble she had losing it after she was pregnant. Obesity is related not only to heart disease but to cancer as well and to longevity in general.

Should we ask questions to fathers?

Absolutely. The entire family history picture is important, but mothers are more likely to be aware of the family's medical history and women can get many clues about their own health outlook by measuring themselves against their mothers.

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