It is crucial that you know the medical history of
close family members. In many instances,
knowing your close relativesí medical conditions
can tip your physician off to test for diseases he
otherwise might not have considered. You can
begin a tradition of sharing medical information.
This step has the potential to lead to an earlier
diagnosis and treatment of potentially serious
health conditions in those you love most.
The list of diseases that run in families is quite lengthy.
Diseases are passed down through the generations in a variety of ways. Human beings have 46 chromosomes in each body cell (except the eggs and
sperm, which have 23). Each chromosome has many different regions,
called genes, which code everything from height to eye color. Our
genetic map is in our chromosomes.
Our mothers donated 23 chromosomes in their eggs and our
fathers donated a matching 23 chromosomes in their sperm. Though
specific genes on these chromosomes vary greatly from person to
person, each chromosome from one parent pairs up with a specific
chromosome from the other parent. Each complementary pair makes
up a set of chromosomes. Consequently, we have 23 sets of
chromosomes, for a total of 46 individual chromosomes in each cell.
Twenty-two sets are called autosomal chromosomes and are
chromosomes 1 through 22.
Genetic research has allowed us to distinguish among chromosomes based on the genes they carry. These chromosomes contain the vast majority of our genes and make up the complex framework of our bodies. The final set of chromosomes
consists of the sex chromosomes, namely X and Y. Females have a set
of X chromosomes (XX) and males have an X and a Y chromosome
Some diseases are inherited directly by passing abnormal genes
or other chromosomal defects from parents to their babies at
conception. But remember, each chromosome has a complementary
chromosome which contains the same types of genes. Therefore,
within each cell there are two functioning chromosomes which
manufacture similar gene products. These dual products work in
concert to produce the final product, such as a trait. Some gene
products are so dominant that their traits are expressed regardless of
the gene product produced by the complementary chromosome.
Others need input from the other gene product to manifest fully.
For example, when a defective gene cannot fully manifest itself
in the presence of a normal gene on its complementary chromosome,
it is said to be recessive. In other words, both parents would have to
pass on a defective gene for the disease to express itself fully in their
Regardless of the mode of inheritance, everyone should make it a point to know as much as possible their family medical history. It could be lifesaving one day!
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