17 Health Questions that Could Save Your Life

You can't pick your parents, but you can pick their brains. Asking Mom, Dad—even your grandparents and siblings—about the health problems they've encountered could help you avoid everything from a miscarriage to mental illness. Here's what to ask. (35 Photos)

Lynya Floyd on Sep 1, 2011 at 1:02PM

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17 Health Questions that Could Save Your Life

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The Question: "What Other Ethnicities Make Up Our Family?"

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but flipping through photo albums won't tell you everything you need to learn about your family's racial background. Knowing your ethnic heritage can also reveal risk factors. "We know that people of Ashkenazi Jewish decent have an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, for example," explains Lynn Holt, M.S., C.G.C., director of the genetic counseling program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions. One in 12 African Americans and between 1 in 2,000 and 1 in 10,000 white Americans is a carrier of the sickle cell trait. While carrying the trait is not a disease, you may need to avoid flying in unpressurized planes at high altitude (it can lead to a painful episode) or consult a doctor before participating in competitive sports (exercise-induced deaths rarely occur, but people with sickle cell trait are at greater risk). Holt also suggests asking for maiden names of family members, which can also give you a clue to ethnicity.

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