Thursday, May 21, 2009

Musings on Medical History

I hadn't planned on blogging today, but a rude awakening a few minutes ago got me to thinking.

We've had a huge amount of rain these past few days, as what we northeast Floridians call a "Nor'easter" has been sitting on us. It's either that, or the fact that the electric utility has been working a couple miles up the road. Whichever it is, it has caused several electrical outages of brief duration (and one long one the other day). My husband and I both have a medical problem called sleep apnea, which basically means that we stop breathing several times an hour while we're sleeping. As treatment for that, we both use medical machines called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, which keep us breathing during sleep. It is a rude awakening indeed when the electricity is interrupted and the CPAP machine stops pushing air!

That got me to thinking about my other medical conditions -- I'm pretty much a wreck, at this point in my life -- and their genetic components, and the importance of seeking out medical information for a good medical history in one's family lines. As a former registered nurse, I know the importance of a thorough medical history.

Some of my medical conditions have or possibly have a genetic component:

Sleep apnea -- our older daughter appears to have inherited it from us
Type 2 diabetes -- my mother and brother also had it
Restless leg syndrome -- my mother and brother

Also to be considered, and part of the history I gave to my doctor, is that my paternal grandparents both died of heart attacks and my maternal grandmother also died of a heart attack, and my mother had a stroke. The cardiovascular system appears to be my weak point, as well, as I have twice been hospitalized as a result of transient ischemic attacks, a precursor to a stroke, a warning shot across the bow, if you will. Lucky me.

We need to try as best we can to determine our family's medical history, at least back a couple generations. Death certificates can give some clues, especially if one particular cause shows up multiple times, in both of your primary family lines. Check out family legends and lore of what a particular family member may have dealt with in life, or their cause of death. Often it is difficult; some potential sources may just not be available. For example, many hospitals destroy their records after five inactive years. If your father or grandfather (or mother or grandmother) was in the military, you might be able to obtain his service health record from the National Personnel Records Center.

Try to learn as much as you can about your health history, through your genealogical research. Your doctor will be glad to have the information. Your descendants will, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Karen-- I completely agree that this is a MOST important step for people to take - whether or not they are researching the rest of their genealogy! In fact, I wrote a blog article on this very subject a few weeks ago and also compiled an archane medical terms glossary (PDF) for people to have as reference. The article is at and the glossary is linked to via this supplemental artical I wrote I hope your readers find this helpful!

Great Blog!

Kathleen Schaible
Tracing Your Routes: The Official Blog of