President Obama’s Check-up and Family Medical History

Earlier today, Liz Szabo of USA Today, called us for comment on President Obama’s medical check-up as described in a memo to Robert Gibbs from the Chief White House Physician Captain Jeffrey Kuhlman, U.S. Navy. The President is very healthy and underwent screening for several diseases (e.g. colon cancer, prostate cancer) that are routine to check for given his gender and age. We did, however, find two things in the report that piqued our interest. The first was the absence of a family medical history and the second was that Mr. Obama occasionally takes medication for jet lag/time zone management under medical supervision.

The President’s family medical history was probably omitted because it was not considered pertinent to his current condition and also because of privacy. However we’d like to take this opportunity to point out that detailed knowledge of your family’s medical history is some of the most important information you can and should provide to your doctor for the screening, prevention or early detection and treatment of diseases that may run in your family.

Medical histories are often displayed as a diagram of your family tree, with squares representing males, circles females with horizontal lines indicating marriages and vertical lines indicating births. Below is a small part of President Obama’s family history:

A slanted red line through a person’s symbol indicates that the person is deceased. It is standard practice to indicate the person’s current age (or age at death) and their major disease conditions. It well known that Mr. Obama’s mother passed away at a relatively young age from cancer. It is often reported that she died of ovarian cancer but some sources indicate that it was actually cancer of the uterus that had spread to her ovaries. Mr. Obama’s maternal grandmother also died of cancer at an elderly age but we couldn’t find any information about the type. Mr. Obama’s maternal grandfather died at age 73 but we couldn’t find any public information on his cause of death. The President’s father died in an automobile accident at the age of 46.

You should know your family’s medical history back to your great-grandparents as well as all of your aunts and uncles. As we said before, this information is at least as important as your current diet and lifestyle when it comes to prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases. What if you’re adopted or simply don’t know your detailed family medical history? It is now possible for you to undergo personal genetic testing for a wide variety of diseases and conditions and you might want to discuss this with your doctor (see www.GenomicMedicineInitiative.org).

So what does the President do to manage jet lag? We don’t know but we are in the process of researching methods to prevent and treat jet lag so come back later for a Resounding Health CaseBook™ on this subject.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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