Why every patient needs to know their family history

A patient’s family history plays a big part in his or her disease.

I have had psoriasis for almost 55 years now and psoriatic arthritis for 25 years. I’ve never thought for one moment that having psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis started with my genes. I have had an autoimmune disease since the tender age of 5. But, I have only recently started to look at autoimmune diseases affecting other family members. The question I ask myself: “Could my family members share the same gene sequence as me?”

We already know that diseases are passed down from generation to generation. For example, diabetes runs in my family on my mother’s side. We know that if family members have had heart disease or cancer, you are more likely to be diagnosed.

That’s why it is so important for every patient to know your family history as well as the health concerns affecting your family members. It will answer so many questions we have later in life with other family members.

My niece was just diagnosed with Sjogren’s disease. She is 30 years old. I had never heard of this, but when I did some research I found out it was an autoimmune disease. My niece has Lupus, she is 16. My middle sister has rheumatoid arthritis, and I have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

What do these diseases have in common? All of these diseases attack the healthy cells in our body. There are dozens of autoimmune diseases. One of the main culprits of the autoimmune disease is inflammation. All of these diseases mentioned have inflammation in common. I know with my arthritis, there is a lot of inflammation involved. I was real surprised to find these autoimmune diseases in my family.

What is an autoimmune disease? The immune system disorders cause abnormally low activity or over activity of the immune system. Immune deficiency diseases decreases the body’s ability to fight invaders. Researchers are making great strides in autoimmune diseases. They’re constantly looking at genetics, including your family history, to compare these diseases.

Could I be the first patient in my family to experience an autoimmune disease, or was I the first person to receive the right diagnosis?  Was it passed down through the blood line? Are these diseases connected? One thing is certain: all of us are suffering with a disease or condition connected to autoimmune disease.

Just a helpful reminder: although our genes may cause our condition, there are things that we can do to help. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Have you tried eating anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, berries, and dark leafy vegetables? These foods will help fix your gut. Try to stay away from refined foods and inflammatory oils. My doctor had me start taking fish oil, vitamin D a few years ago. She said these would help my immune system calm down naturally.
  • Regular Exercise: You should exercise regularly. Regular exercise is a natural anti-inflammatory. You don’t have to go to the gym, run on a treadmill, or pump iron to stay in shape. Just get moving. Relax more. Stress is not good for us.
  • Quality Sleep: And lastly, get plenty of sleep every night. Lack of sleep or poor sleep damages your metabolism which causes cravings for sugar and carbs. This in turn makes you eat more and drives up your risk for numerous conditions from diabetes to other autoimmune diseases.

About the Author: Patients Rising Advocate Diane Talbert

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