Have you ever noticed that visits to the doctor, dentist and hospital usually include a battery of questions about your family’s health history?  Knowing your family’s medical history is important because it may expose the potential for genetic conditions and disorders that may develop in the future.  This month, we’re excited to raise awareness about genetic disease and offer some essential tips to keep you performing at optimal health throughout your life!


What is a genetic disease?

A genetic disease is any disease that is caused by an abnormality in an individual’s genome. The abnormality can range from minuscule to major — from a discrete mutation in a single base in the DNA of a single gene to a gross chromosome abnormality involving the addition or subtraction of an entire chromosome or set of chromosomes. Some genetic disorders are inherited from the parents, while other genetic diseases are caused by acquired changes or mutations in a preexisting gene or group of genes. Mutations occur either randomly or due to some environmental exposure (courtesy of


What are the different types of genetic inheritance?

There are a number of different types of genetic inheritance, including the following four modes:

Single gene inheritance – Single gene inheritance, also called Mendelian or monogenetic inheritance. This type of inheritance is caused by changes or mutations that occur in the DNA sequence of a single gene. There are more than 6,000 known single-gene disorders, which occur in about 1 out of every 200 births. These disorders are known as monogenetic disorders (disorders of a single age).

Some examples of monogenetic disorders include:

Cystic Fibrosis – About 30,000 people in the United States have cystic fibrosis (CF). Cystic fibrosis is one of the most common inherited diseases among Caucasians. About 1,000 new cases of cystic fibrosis are diagnosed each year.  Cystic fibrosis affects both males and females and people from all racial and ethnic groups. However, the disease is most common among Caucasians of Northern European descent.  Cystic fibrosis also is common among Latinos and Native Americans, especially the Pueblo and Zuni. The disease is much less common among African Americans and Asian Americans.

About 12 million Americans are carriers of a faulty cystic fibrosis gene. Many of them don’t know that they’re cystic fibrosis carriers.

Sickle Cell Anemia – Sickle cell anemia (sickle cell disease) is a disorder of the blood caused by an inherited abnormal hemoglobin(an oxygen-carrying protein within the red blood cells). The abnormal hemoglobin causes distorted (sickled) red blood cells. The sickled red blood cells are fragile and prone to rupture. When the number of red blood cells decreases from rupture (hemolysis), anemia is the result. This condition is referred to as sickle cell anemia. The irregular sickled cells can also block blood vessels causing tissue and organ damage and pain.

Sickle cell anemia is one of the most common inherited blood anemias. The disease primarily affects Africans and African Americans. It is estimated that in the United States, some 50,000 African Americans are afflicted with the most severe form of sickle cell anemia.

Overall, current estimates are that one in 1,875 U.S. African American is affected with sickle cell anemia.

Another type of genetic inheritance is Multifactorial inheritance. Multifactorial inheritance disorders are caused by a combination of environmental factors and mutations in multiple genes. For example, different genes that influence breast cancer susceptibility have been found on chromosomes 6, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, and 22. Some common chronic diseases are multifactorial disorders.

Examples of multifactorial inheritance include:

Heart Disease: Despite being nicknamed “the widow maker,” heart disease is also a very real health issue for women.  About 8 million women are currently living with heart disease in the U.S. and women account for 60% of heart failure deaths each year.  Keep your heart, and your body, healthy by following the tips below.

Cancer: Breast cancer is of particular concern as it is the most common cancer to occur in women and is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of death for women.  While it is not possible to prevent cancer with any one behavior, there are certain things you can do to decrease your risk—the most important of which is to regularly go for screenings with your doctor.

Hypertension/Stroke: Another health issue women should be wary of is stroke.  Women account for approximately 61% of stroke deaths that occur each year.  The most common symptoms of stroke are sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

Multifactorial inheritance also is associated with heritable traits such as fingerprint patterns, height, eye color, and skin color.  Fortunately, there are some lifestyle behaviors that we can each adopt to help minimize our risk for developing multifactorial inheritance disorders, such as:


Wellness Tips:


  • Don’t smoke!  While this may seem obvious, avoiding smoking and second hand smoke is crucial to maintaining a healthy body.


  • Eat healthy!  Choose vegetables, fruits, and lean sources of protein instead of fatty foods high in sodium and sugars.


  • Don’t skip that check up!  Visiting your doctor on a regular basis will help ensure you can diagnose and manage any conditions you may have.  Catching health problems early gives you a chance to address them right away.


  • Work out!  Include some sort of physical activity in your daily routine.  Whether its hitting the gym, doing yoga, or walking keeping fit is a great way to stay healthy.


  • Don’t stress!  Getting overwhelmed by stresses from work and your personal life can really take a toll on your health.  Be sure to deal with stress in healthy ways, like a cardio routine or breathing exercises, to reduce the chance of high blood pressure and illness.

So take time out at that next family function to talk about some of the illnesses, allergies and so on that your relatives may have developed.  Learning about your genetic make-up can help you determine whether or not your current health regimen needs a shake-up!


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