Has your mom been trying to pry open your personal life ever since your junior high days? It's time to turn the tables, because when it comes to your health, the woman who birthed you, bathed you, and burped you is the closest thing you have to a crystal ball. We all appreciate the lovelier physical traits we've inherited, from a set of perfectly straight, white choppers to a NASCAR-worthy metabolism, but it's important to take stock of the health problems she may have passed down along with them. Asking her these questions could clue you in to your possible future, and help you give inherited health risks the boot.
‘Are you as tall now as you were at 21?’
If your mom has lost an inch or two since her sorority days, it could be a sign of osteoporosis or the less-severe osteopenia, says Isador H. Lieberman, M.D., a professor of surgery and an orthopedic and spinal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Weston, Florida. If she has osteoporosis, there's a 50 percent chance you'll develop it too. On the flip side, if your mom still has the frame of a 35-year-old, you're not as likely to be hobbling around with a hunchback or hip fractures later in life.
Escape the parent trap: To keep your skeleton well-steeled, "get at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day from low-fat dairy and take a multi with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium," Lieberman says. At the gym, hit the free weights along with the treadmill. "Bones get stronger in response to force, and strength-training can target areas like the shoulders, spine, and wrists," he says.
If your mom has osteoporosis, ask your doctor about getting a bone-density scan. If it shows a skeleton that's Fabergé-fragile, you can toughen it up by guzzling even more dairy, ramping up your strength training and taking prescription meds. Think of your skeleton as a rock that's slowly being eroded: The harder and stronger you can make the stone, the better it will stand up over time.
‘Did you have a rough pregnancy?’
Your pregnancy won't necessarily play out like your mom's pregnancy, but certain complications do have a genetic link, says Orna Kolker, M.D., assistant clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. "Find out if mom had a C-section due to a narrow or unevenly aligned pelvis," she says. If you have her Zellweger-thin hips, you could face a similar baby-won't-budge situation in the delivery room. You can also inherit a higher risk for blood-clotting disorders, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure and high protein levels in the urine). Even if your mom faced nothing worse than morning sickness, "hearing about her experiences can reassure you that what you're going through, whether it's five-alarm heartburn or labor anxiety, is normal," Kolker says.
Escape the parent trap: If your mom cops to any of the issues mentioned, let your ob-gyn know, especially if you're pregnant or plan to get there soon. "Your doctor can work with you to take steps to prevent complications," says Robert Atlas, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "For example, in the case of pre-eclampsia, she may prescribe more fruits and veggies along with fetus-friendly exercise to lower your risk."
‘How’d your last eye exam go?’
You know she wears contacts, but "quiz her about whether she's ever been diagnosed with glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve) or macular degeneration (thinning of the retina)," says Mark Swan, O.D., M.Ed., a professor of optometry at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. "Both conditions run in families and often are severe before symptoms occur." If they're not discovered early, they can lead to vision damage and even blindness.
Escape the parent trap: "If glaucoma or macular degeneration runs in your family, whether you light up can make the difference between getting them or not," Swan says. "Smoking reduces blood flow to the eye area, depletes levels of crucial antioxidants that keep eyes healthy, and damages delicate eye tissues." If mom (or dad) has one of these conditions, start getting yearly vision exams now — even if you see 20/20 — and let your doctor know so she can check for early warning signs. If she does spot problems, the sooner you get treated, the more likely your vision will be to stay sharp for years to come.
‘Ever get the blues?’
Don't assume your mom would tell you she's been popping Prozac. "Many people aren't comfortable bringing up mental health issues, even with their own families," says Michael C. Smith, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Yet studies show that having a parent with clinical depression or anxiety makes you two to three times more prone to dark days than someone without an immediate family history. If your mom is more upbeat than a B-52s single, consider yourself lucky: "We learn our coping skills from our parents, so a mother who's adept at dealing with obstacles is likely to pass those techniques down to her daughter," Smith says.
Escape the parent trap: Try not to fake happy. "Opening up to friends and family about how you feel can mean a huge improvement in your mood," Smith says. A study from the University of Oregon found that depressed women with weak social support were more likely to remain depressed than those with strong ties. "If you do feel more sad, worried, or stressed than usual, for longer than two weeks, ask your doctor to recommend a cognitive-behavioral therapist," he says.
‘Have you ever had a mole removed?’
Even if you've spent every one of your beach days under an umbrella, "you're still more likely to have skin damage if your mom does," says Doris Day, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Ask whether she's ever had a precancerous or cancerous mole or lesion removed. Dermatologists say that because spots can often be scraped or frozen off in a doctor's office, people neglect to tell their family about it.
Escape the parent trap: Could your mama win a face-off with Demi Moore? Find out how she takes care of her skin and follow her lead. "Consider getting a prescription for a retinoid cream (such as Retin-A), which can minimize wrinkles and prevent damaged skin cells from developing into cancer," Day says. If you do have a family history of skin cancer, use sunscreen religiously, even if you have dark skin. In addition to getting checked by a dermatologist, ask your eye doc to look for pigment changes in your peepers, which can be a sign of skin cancer.