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Does my family medical history put me at risk for disease?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
A family history of a certain disease does not necessarily mean that you are genetically predisposed to develop that condition. It indicates a possibility, not a certainty. Even if a genetic illness does run in the family, there is currently no inexpensive way of knowing if you have inherited the disease gene (or genes). In most instances, your odds of inheriting any condition are less than 50 percent. Even if you have inherited a predisposition for a specific biological condition that can cause aging, you may very well not adopt the behaviors and choices that trigger the onset of the disease.

Here's an example. You undoubtedly know a family with type II diabetes. There are certain people that have a predisposition to develop it. In fact, type II diabetes is thought to be a genetic disease with clinical manifestations at a rate dependent on many of your choices. That is, if you are a monozygotic twin (an "identical twin"), and your twin gets type II diabetes, you will get it 100 percent of the time. And it will age you. On the other hand, almost 90 percent of those who are diagnosed with the disease are also overweight. Many do not exercise, and a large percentage smoke. When a person is genetically predisposed to type II diabetes, environmental factors such as weight gain, lack of exercise, and smoking can trigger the disease. A slim and fit person may well have the genetic predisposition but never know it, because the conditions that trigger the disease never occur. Indeed, taking care to protect your "youth" is the very best disease management. Living in a youthful manner can offset the genetic predisposition before a disease develops at all.
Your family medical history can put you at increased risk for certain diseases. While numerous diseases are linked to genetics, certain modifications like adopting a healthy lifestyle with diet, exercise and smoking cessation can sometimes prevent or decrease the risk of onset. It's important to let your healthcare provider know your family history and have a conversation regarding your risks.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.