When it comes to wellness visits, it’s important to know one’s family health history to help assess one’s risk of developing chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Indeed, knowing the medical history of one’s parents, grandparents, children, siblings and other relatives is key to making certain preventive care decisions.
For reasons that remain unclear, many Latino people, especially immigrants, don’t discuss or record their family health history, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Some studies suggest that stigma, fear, family dynamics and secrecy create barriers to family health history among Latinos.
“It’s common that when Hispanic/Latino patients come to the clinic and you ask them, ’What is your past medical history’ or if there’s any family history of any type of malignancy or cancer, they do not know,” Olga Garcia-Bedoya, MD, medical director of the Institute for Minority Health Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the AHA.
Among Latinos, missing health information can often be attributed to uncontrollable circumstances, Garcia-Bedoya said. For example, Latinos who recently entered the United States may not have discussed their family health history before emigrating or might have had difficulty accessing health care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latino adults are 50% more likely than adults of other races to develop type 2 diabetes, and more than 40% of Latino adults in the United States have obesity, AHA statistics show. Both diabetes and obesity contribute to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. A family history of diabetes indicates a potential predisposition for the disease.
"From the clinical standpoint, that’s important because diabetes can be preventable. If we detect it in the early stages, we can avoid the use of medication, and there are lifestyle modifications that can delay the progression of the disease,” Garcia-Bedoya said.
For those who don’t know their family health history, genetic testing can help fill in the gaps. The AHA also suggests getting screened annually high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions.