Health Questions For Mom: Six Things To Ask About Her Medical History

Hispanic mother and daughter drinking coffee together
Hispanic mother and daughter drinking coffee together

Most moms could probably recite their child's medical history from day one. They keep detailed records of inches grown and tetanus shots. They bandage boo boos and soothe sore throats and fight insurance claims, all while hiding their own headaches and heartaches.

Often, it isn't until those children have grown and the tables have turned that mom's own health background is thrust into the spotlight, when suddenly she is no longer the caretaker.

Knowing about the major health moments in her life can certainly help you provide the best care as a grown child -- and to take the best care of yourself. "Your mother's adverse health history need not adversely affect you," says Christiane Northrup, M.D., board-certified ob/gyn. "Instead of seeing your mother's health as a sentence, see your mother's health as an opportunity to improve in the next generation."

These questions likely aren't the topic of Mother's Day brunch conversation. But they are worth asking -- and worth asking soon, for both of you.

How's Your Heart?
The genetic risk for heart disease is high -- and it's still the number one killer of women. While you're likely to know about any major cardiovascular events in mom's life, like a heart attack, you might not know that high blood pressure runs back three or four generations in your family. "If you know your mom has had a heart attack, and certainly if she's had a heart attack before the age of 60, that increases your risk anywhere from 25 to 50 percent," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Tisch Center for Women's Health at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "Then, act on it," she says. Figure out if you personally have high blood pressure and ask your doctor for the necessary tests to determine if you have high cholesterol or diabetes. Incorporate more heart-healthy foods into your regular diet, and be sure to get the recommended two and a half hours of aerobic physical activity a week.

Have You Ever Had Cancer?
It wasn't that long ago that certain diseases, like uterine or breast cancer, were considered too taboo to talk about. But some of the most hereditary cancers have also been the most hush-hush. If you discover that your mother had breast, ovarian or colon cancer, for example, your doctor may suggest certain screenings earlier than what's typically recommended, according to Everyday Health. Of course, not everyone will need to take drastic preventive measures based solely on family history. "Ask yourself, 'Once I know that, how is that going to help me?'" says Northrup.

What Was Pregnancy Like?
You've probably heard the same stories about your early childhood more times than you can count, but if you've never asked mom about how you actually came to be, now's the time. If she had a hard time conceiving, you may face trouble too, and may want to consider being tested for fertility problems earlier than most women might, according to Health.com. Keep in mind your age is still a more telling sign of your fertility than your mom's fertility, Everyday Health reports.

You might also inherit risk for certain pregnancy-related conditions like gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia. Just let your doctor know the answers mom provides. "Your doctor can work with you to take steps to prevent complications," Robert Atlas, M.D., told Women's Health.

But don't worry too much, warns Northrup. Stressing about your own fertility simply because your mother had difficulty might just fuel your stress hormones to get in the way of the birds and the bees. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Northrup.

What Was Menopause Like?
You can probably expect to reach menopause around the same time as mom did, JoAnn Pinkerton, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia, told Health magazine, and possibly to experience the same symptoms. "Hot flashes, night sweets, difficulty sleeping -- sometimes that runs in families," Goldberg tells HuffPost.

If you consider your mother's symptoms to be a warning of what's to come, there are steps to take to try and ensure a smoother ride for yourself, says Northrup. Eat a diet rich in omega 3s, make sure your vitamin D levels are optimal, not just adequate and avoid excess alcohol, she says.

Is There A History Of Mental Illness In Our Family?
While perceptions are changing, the stigma surrounding mental health is still very real -- and was likely even more oppressive in your mother's or grandmother's generation. But considering bipolar disorder and depression seem to run in families, says Goldberg, knowing where you come from might help you get help. That doesn't mean panic. But if you're familiar with the issues common among your family, you're more likely to reach out for help as soon as you become concerned, explains Everyday Health.

Has Your Height Changed Recently?
While we often consider it a harmless sign of aging, a shrinking stature is a common sign of poor bone health. While we certainly inherit some things that predispose us to osteoporosis, says Goldberg, there are preventive measures to take, including exercising, eating low-fat dairy products or soy for bone-strengthening calcium and getting enough vitamin D.

Let us know in the comments: Have you had these discussions or other health talks with your mother? How has it helped your health?

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