Every woman will experience menopause, but how and when she begins the natural process is different from person to person. This can be the result of a combination of factors that influence health. A number of these are out of a woman’s control, such as her genetics and family history, but others are due to personal choice. Still, it can be helpful for women to understand what contributes to the severity of their symptoms. Is it related to family history and genetics or due to lifestyle and environment?
Rebecca Loman, a certified genetic counselor at Sanford Health, provides some insight.
“One of the questions we discuss is if there is a genetic component to menopause. Women often ask, ‘If my mom got menopause late or early, will I get menopause around the same age?’ But there is not a lot of information about genetics and menopause,” Loman said.
“While experts do think there is a hereditary factor, we do not have good risk data providing answers,” she said. “There are some statistics indicating families have matching timelines for the onset of menopause, but we do not have data explaining if this is due to genetics or because families commonly share the same environment and lifestyle.”
The value of family history
As a woman ages, her risk for certain conditions increases. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other conditions require closer observation. Loman offers women additional information into the common diseases that are monitored during midlife and how genetics and family history can play a role.
“Family history is one of the best tools for understanding your risk factors. It explores how genetics, environment and lifestyle all contribute,” Loman said. “Genetic counselors turn a family history into a pedigree, which is a genetic version of a family tree. This information is invaluable for doctors when they care for patients now and in the future.
“We discuss how family history affects the woman, her health and her family. For example, if a woman has a family history of breast cancer, she may need additional monitoring or earlier screenings. She may also benefit from genetic testing to see if it’s hereditary. Her family members may have an increased risk as well, so we discuss how this can impact them.”
Genetics is not everything
Genetics does not answer every question, but there is a benefit to completing a family history and understanding how genetics can influence midlife health.
“Knowledge is power. Genetics, family history and personal history do not provide all the answers. It may not change things moving forward, but it provides information she would not know otherwise,” Loman said. “By understanding her risk factors, she has better awareness, can make different lifestyle choices and get monitored more closely if needed.”
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