Dramatic developments in genetic research are pinpointing more and more genes which predispose us to certain diseases. And half the 50,000 genes in our bodies come from mum. But it doesn't mean you're doomed to develop the same problems as she had. By altering your lifestyle, die and exercise habits, you can reduce your chances of following in your mum's footsteps. Besides, looks aren't the only things you inherit from your mother, chances are she's passed on some health problems as well. Asking questions now, and taking preventive actions, could save your life. 1. How's Her Gynaecological Health? Uterine Fibroids:
They're benigh growths in or on the uterus and 70 - 80 percent of women have them. Most don't notice unless they grow large enough to cause pelvic pain, heavy periods and the urge to urinate or pass stools frequently. It's difficult to say if fibroids are inherited, because they're so common. But if your mother or sister had some that cause problems, it's wise to checl. Endometriosis:
Scientists can't pinpoint the cause but there definitely appears to be a hereditary component. Studies suggest if your mum or sister had it, your risk increases to around 7 percent (as opposed to 2 - 3 percent). Symptoms can include back pain, pain during intercourse, abnormal bleeding and a dragging, arching pelvic pain. Poor Bladder Control:
Common cause of bladder difficulties include pregnancy, childbirth and the presence of a certain type of collagen, which is usually inherited. Some researchers also say you inherit the strength of your pelvic muslce and tightness of ligaments from mum. If they're poor, you may develop incontinence. Difficult Pregnancy:
There may be a mother-daughter link, as both may show similarities in the size of their pelvis, how the uterus contracts and how labour progresses. It's far more important to ask if she had diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Both are inherited and if there's a history, you should be monitored by your obstetrician. Beat The Odds By:
Even if there isn't a family history, it is recommended that all women get screened for uterine enlargement (during a pelvic exam) every year, from your 20s through to 50s. Medication can shrink fibroids or they can be surgically removed. Endometriosis:
Taking the Pill, which blocks menstruation, can help to ease symptoms and prevent it from progressing. For best results, take it continuously and don't break for the sugar pills. The best cure for endometriosis seems to be a pregnancy. If you have babies early, you're less likely to develop it. Bladder Control:
Doing Kegel exercises daily (tightening and releasing the muscle that controls urine flow) helps immeasurably. 2. When Did She Hit Menopause?
The average age for menopause is around 52 but in rare cases, it can happen as early as your mid-30s. If your mother went through the menopause before 40 (and it wasn't a result of surgery or chemotherapy), you're also at rick - something to consider if you're planning on having children. Usually, women who experience early menopause are born with a small number of eggs. You're likely to inherit a similar number of eggs as your mother and lose them at a similar rate. Menopause usually occurs when the eggs run out. Your mother's severity of menopause symptoms - hot flashes, cold sweats and insomnia - may also be passed on as they're influenced by how your body handles oestrogen. Beat The Odds By:
» Planning on having children early, if you want a family. » Not smoking and watching your alcohol intake. One study showed that smokers can start menopause up to eight years earlier than would have naturally occurred. Alcohol can lower oestrogen levels, also making early menopause more likely. » Starting hormone replacement therapy early, when you first start to skip periods. There's evidence that taking estrogens more than five years after menopause increases the incidence of breast cancer, but it's very slight and this has to be balanced against the significant positive benefits. 3. How's Her Dental Health?
If your mother had crooked teeth or needed orthodontic treatment as a child, there's a tendency for you to inherit her dental problems. Though if you inherited the right type of genes from your father and he had great teeth, you can be lucky. But you need not get all your parents' dental problems as it's also possible that their bad teeth are a result or poor diet, or not having enough access to a dentist. There is a rare genetic disorder (called amelogenesis imperfecta) which affects the outer layer of the tooth, but only one in 14,000 have it. Gum diseases isn't thought to be hereditary - it's a build-up of plaque which predominantly causes inflammation, bleeding or receding gums and tooth loss. Beat The Odds By:
» Watching your intake of sugar and acidic drinks. It's okay to indulge occasionally but every time you do, you're subjecting your teeth to an acid attack. Carry a toothbrush with you and brush teeth after meals to get rid of food debris (dry brush if you don't have toothpaste at hand). » Scheduling six-monthly dental check-ups. You may need to go more often or less, depending on your dental history. » Developing good oral hygiene habits. Brush twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste, change toothbrushes every two months, floss at least once a day. » Avoid smoking, red wine, coffee and tea or reducing such stains by rinsing with water after. 4. What's The Family History Of Cancer? Breast:
All of us are at risk (there's a one in 12 chance for the average female) but if you have three or more first or second degree relatives (mother, sister and grandmother, for instance) who were hit by breast cancer pre-50 or menopause, particularly in both breasts, your risk does rise. But despite public perception, only 5 to 15 percent of total cases have a strong family history. Two breast cancer genes have been identified - BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you're one of the few unlucky enough to inherit them, your lifetime risk could be as high as 50-60 percent. BRCA1 may also predispose you to ovarian cancer (Men can also carry the gene so ask about your father's family). Early onset of your periods, having children post-30 and being overweight are also suspected. Ovarian:
The normal risk in one in 70 but a strong family history of ovarian cancer can make it five times greater. Symptoms include abdominal pain or swelling, persistent constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, indigestion, unexplained weight loss or abnormal bleeding. Beat The Odds By:
» Examining your breasts monthly, after your period. The better you know your own breasts and what they usually feel like, the more chance you have of picking up a change. Get your doctor to examine your breasts annually and also check that your self-examination technique is adequate. A lump, dimpling, discharge from the nipples, any change in the skin over them (including redness) or unusual pain should be attended to immediately. » If your mother or sister have had breast cancer, discuss with your GP whether you should have early mammograms, perhaps starting in your 30s rather than the usual 40/50. » Watching your diet. Include cancer-fighting foods like fruit and vegetables (especially green produce like broccoli and cabbage). Regular exercise may also lower your risk. » Cutting down on alcohol. Studies consistently link breast cancer and alcohol consumption. Stick to less than three drinks a week. As with any disease, smoking exacerbates it. Ovarian: » Having a pelvic examination once or twice a year and asking your doctor about ultrasound screenings and a blood test for ovarian cancer. If your mum has it, get tested from age 35 on. » The Pill helps protect against ovarian cancer after six months' use. » Reducing dairy food and animal fat. 5. Does She Have Heart Disease?
Overseas research suggests coronary disease (affecting the arteries that supply blood to the heart) shows a definite mother-daughter link. if your mother or sister developed it before age 55 or either of your parents had a heart attack before they were 60, you're at high risk. High cholesterol and trigyceride levels and high blood pressure also appear to be passed on. One in 500 of us inherits familial hypercholesterolaemia, a condition where blood cholesterol levels are twice the norm. There are eight risk factors for heart disease. Three of them - family history, being male (or a post-menopausal female) and your age - you can do nothing about. The other five (smoking, high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, under-exercising and being overweight) are within your control. It is recommended that every woman over 25, particularly those with a family history, gets her blood pressure taken annually and a cholesterol check .If it's 5.5 or below, there's no need to check again for another three to five years. But if it's above, you need to diet and exercise to bring that down to a normal range. And if you're even slightly overweight, you're 80 percent more at risk of heart disease. Your waist shouldn't measure more than 80cm: abdominal obesity is dangerous. If you're apple-shaped (tend to carry weight around your stomach) you're more at risk than if you're pear-shaped (carry it around your hips and thighs). Beat The Odds By:
The good news is, by changing your lifestyle and modifying risk factors, you can reduce your chances of getting any of these illnesss by 50 - 80 percent. » Eating low-fat, low-cholesterol foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables are loaded with natural chemicals which protect against narrowing of the arteries. Reduce saturated fats like cheese, cream and butter and look for low-fat diary alternatives. Eat chicken, lots of fish and three portions of lean red meat per week. » Exercising. It maintains a healthy weight, reduces high blood pressure and keeps cholesterol levels low. As little as half-an-hour walking a day lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease. » Quit smoking. Smokers account for 17 percent of all coronary heart disease deaths. Watch your alcohol intake as well: it's fermented sugar, which sends triglyceride levels rocketing. » Getting a full check-up with your doctor around menopause - before, if you smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. 6. Does She Get Migraines?
There's definitely a hereditary link. It is estimated you have a 30 percent chance of suffering if either of your parents do; UK research puts that figure higher, claiming in seven out of 10 migraine cases, there's a family history. We're all potential migraine sufferers, it's our threshold - how quickly one is triggered - which is inherited. There are varying dregrees of migraines. Some people just get a blinding headache, others neurological symptoms as well (temporary loss of vision, speech and dizziness). In a severe attack, you might feel paralysed, as by a stroke. What causes migraine remains a mystery though a migraine gene, found in a part of the cell called the calcum channel, has recently been discovered. There's also undoubtedly a relationship between the menstrual cycle and migraines because some people get more or less on the Pill. Although most of us associate migraines with stress, it's more likely the relief of it that's a trigger, it's quite common for sufferers to get them on weekends or the first few days of holidays, when stress is removed, than during a busy work week. Beat The Odds By:
» Maintaining regular sleeping patterns. Too little or too much may both be triggers for migraines. » Keeping a migraine diary. Keep track of your stress levels, sleep patterns, what you ate and drank to isolate personal triggers. Some are food linked (red wine, fried food, cheese, chocolate, coffee and seafood are common culprits) though it's now thought a craving for these foods is more likely a warning sign that an attack is already on its way, rather than the cause of it. Most migraine sufferers figure out what prompts their migraines. It's then usually a case of taking preventive medication during high risk period. 7> Does She Have A History Of Depression?
Depression is hereditary but that's not all that causes it. If your mother gets clinically depressed, you have a 10 - 20 percent chance of also suffering. The earlier and more severe the onset, the higher your risk. However, remember that "you're susceptible if either parent suffers but it's the difficulties and pressures of modern life that causes it". If your mother takes medication - like Prozac, an anti-depressant - it could mean you'll also respond to the same drug. Anxiety disorders - like panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder - also appear to be hereditary, as is drug or alcohol addiction. Manic depression and schizophrenia are also strongly inheritable. it's worth asking your parents about Alzheimer's disease too. On average, half the children of an affected parent will get Alzheimer's later in life. Beat The Odds By:
» Getting treatment early. You can't prevent depression but it's very optimistic that you can get good results from various forms of counselling and/or medication. » Not being ashamed to admit you're depressed. Depression is a medical problem and like all other illnesses, it needs treatment. » Reducing stressful events as far as possible. Try not to plan high-stress triggers (changing jobs, moving, getting married or pregnant) back-to-back. » Not relying on alcohol or other drugs to lift your spirits. That only covers up the real problem. » If you're sleeping badly, find it hard to concentrate, feel irritable or teary for no apparent reason, see a counsellor. We all go through periods of unhappiness but depression is distinguishable by the length (it lasts longer than two weeks), severity (feelings are intense, sometimes even suicidal) and a negative effect on your life (work and relationships suffer because you lack energy and motivation and are constantly irritable). If being miserable is disrupting your life, it's probably depression. 8. Could She Have Diabetes?
There are two types. Type 1 (insulin dependent) and Type 2 or mature onset diabetes (non-insulin dependent). Type 2 accounts for 85 percent of all cases and tends to develop after the age of 40, though it can occur earlier. Both types of diabetes have a genetic component. Your risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is around 5 percent if your father has it but only 1 percent if your mother does. With Type 2, if one parent has it, your risk is around 20 - 30 percent, and it's higher if both do. If you or your siblings weighed over 4k at birth, it could indicate gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) which predisposes you and your mother to developing Type 2 later in life. Be alert to the symptoms. Diabetes makes you feel excessively thirsty, tired and urinate more than normal. Other signs: blurry vision, infections that are slow to heal and recurrent thrush. Type 1 symptoms may be accompanied by rapid weight loss. Beat The Odds By:
» Exercising and staying within a healthy weight range. There's evidence you can delay - even prevent - Type 2 by managing your weight and keeping fit. Excess body fat, particularly around your stomach, can be a trigger as it interferes with the action of insulin. » Opting for low-fat, hgh-fibre foods. Eating sugar doesn't cause diabetes and it's okay to have a little so long as it's part of an overall healthy eating plan. 9. Has She Had Any Serious Eye Problems?
If either of your parents wore glasses very young or have serious eye problems or diseases, you could also be at risk. If your mother mentions she's been seeing a doctor for glaucoma since she was 20, I'd be hotfooting it off to your GP even if your vision is 100 percent normal. Glaucoma used to be thought of as an "old people's" disease. But you can be born with it and lots of young people are affected. It causes the pressure in the eye to build up, damage nerves and can make you blind. There are no early symptoms but does appear to be hereditary. Beat The Odds By:
» Keeping healthy and getting lots of rest. Old-fashioned things like eating well and resting are important for the eyes. Eyes are sensitive indicators of the general health of the person. » Wearing approved sunglasses to protect your eyes with glasses whenever you're outside. Check for how much UVA and UV radiation the lenses let through. » Getting up and walking around now and then, if your work means that you stare at computer screens a lot, and remind yourself to blink. There's not a lot of evidence to show that staring at screens is damaging, but if you work in air-conditioning, you'll tend to blink less often and your eyes will dry out. 10. Does She Have Osteoporosis?
It does tend to be passed on and we know there's an increased risk if there's a strong family history, so take steps now to guard against it. Osteoporosis is essentially brittle bones, usually caused by bone loss after menopause when our own supply of oestrogen runs low and can no longer prevent calcium from being lost from bones. Low bone mass in your 20s and 30s is strongly linked to osteoporosis. The New England Journal Of Medicine found daughters of women with osteoporosis have lower than average bone density. Many of the risk factors appear genetic: early menopause (natural or surgical) - both rob the body of oestrogen, fair skin, a small, delicate frame and a tendency to be on the thin side. If you over-exercise and don't take adequate calcium, you may develop it before menopause (women as young as 30 have had it). Usually, it's discovered via X-rays when a fracture occurs. If your mother is still too young to show signs, ask if either of your grandmothers suffered. Beat The Odds By:
» Doing weight-bearing exercise, especially before age 35. That means any exercise when you're carrying your own weight, like jogging, walking, weights, aeroics. It's recommended you do around four hours a week. » Eating a high-calcium diet, again before age 35. Make skim milk, low-fat, high-calcium dairy products, fish (especially sardines) and dark green leafy vegetables part of your staple diet. Add foods high in magnesium, like whole grains and turkey - it's another natural bone-builder. Also consider boosting your diet with calcium supplements if you're too lazy or busy to plan meals. » Not smoking. It weaken bones. » Consider going for hormone replacement therapy around the time of your own menopause, if your mother had an early menopause. » Get a bone density test done around the time that you start showing menopausal symptoms.