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Better than Talking About Politics, Anyway

As many people gather with family for the holiday season, they might want to strike up a conversation about family medical history over dinner.

At US News and World Report, Peter Hulick from the NorthShore University HealthSystem writes that knowing family history can help doctors gauge whether someone might be a candidate for genetic testing. "As doctors have more new ways to use genetic testing to assess risk or treat disease, it's increasingly important to talk to your family about their health history, as it may provide the signal to investigate further with genetic testing," Hulick writes.

He notes that recent work in genomics has improved clinicians' abilities to predict — and prevent — heart attacks and strokes and to guide patients to treatments better suited for them. Similarly, Hulick says that family history is a key part of preventing or treating hereditary cancers, and might indicate that someone should seek, for instance, BRCA testing. Also, knowing whether family members have reacted to drugs like blood thinners, pain relievers, or antidepressants could help narrow down drug choices.

"Additionally, what you learn may become even more valuable as research and tailored treatments continue to advance," Hulick writes.