Genetics, Your Health & Your Future

Genetic health is often overlooked by patients, despite the fact it can be a key signifier of ill health. If you’re not feeling right, the answer could be found in the very code of your DNA.

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Fortunately, it’s not an area that medicine overlooks – though patients don’t often understand why it’s so important. At some point in a medical consultation, you may be asked about the health of your family. It can feel somewhat irrelevant if you’re wanting to focus on your own issues, but often, it’s a key diagnostic tool.

Almost all illnesses of the body (rather than those transmitted through other sources – such as viruses and infections) can have a genetic component. However, some are far more likely that others.

Genetic Cancer: A Celebrity Case

Angelina Jolie announced in 2015 that she had undergone a mastectomy due to genetic identifiers that massively increased her risk of breast cancer. This is become all the more common, as women with close relatives who suffer from the disease are tested and discover they have a predisposition.

A predisposition does not mean they will get breast cancer – it just means their chances are much higher than in the average populace. For many women, they make the choice to have preventative surgery rather than rolling the genetic dice.

It is not just breast cancer that has a strong prevalence through families. Colorectal cancer, kidney cancer and ovarian cancer are also among those with a genetic link.

Is It Just Cancers?

No – though they tend to get the most attention.

Thyroid problems are very commonly passed through generations. Huntington’s Disease and Alzheimer’s both have a genetic component, too – and that’s just the beginning of the list.

Why Does This Matter?

It’s easy to think that if it’s in your DNA, then what does it matter? We don’t have a control over our family history; it’s inherited, and we can’t change it. While you can take precautionary actions with some illnesses (such as a breast cancer mastectomy), some you have no control over. Doesn’t knowing increase worry?

No, it increases awareness. Let’s say you feel tired and thirsty all the time. If you haven’t kept tabs on your family history because you feel it’s too invasive to ask or something similar, then you may run this through a symptom checker and just decide you’re stressed and ignore it. If you do know you have a genetic predisposition for diabetes, then you’d take these symptoms more seriously.

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So ask questions. Learn as much as you can about your genetic profile, so you can help your doctor to help you.

Doctors use this information in a variety of ways. For example, it’s the difference between saying a painful chest is likely caused by a pulled muscle – or bringing someone in for stress tests on their heart. Genetic factors can lead a diagnosis in the right direction or, in some cases, rule things out.

Diagnosis is an art as much as it is a science, and you need to equip your doctor with the right tools for the job.

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