Do You Know Your History?
Family history, that is. Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles and environments, which together may influence their risk for developing health problems. Most people have a family health history of common chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, heart disease or diabetes) or other health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure.) A person with a close relative affected by a chronic disease or health condition may have a higher risk of developing that disease than a person who doesn’t.
We know family health history is important to our health. One survey found 96 percent of Americans believe knowing their family health history is important. Yet, the same survey found only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family’s health history.
Are you ready to collect your family health history, but don’t know where to start?
The U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. The holiday season offers many opportunities for families to share a meal and their family health history. This information can help your doctor decide which tests and screenings are recommended to help you know your health risks.
Below are some ways you can begin documenting your family health history:
Talk to Your Family
Write down the names of blood relatives you need to include in your history.
The most important relatives to talk to for your family health history are your parents, brothers and sisters, and your children.
Next, you may want to talk to grandparents, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and any half-brothers or half-sisters.
It is also helpful to talk to great uncles and aunts, as well as cousins.
Among the questions to ask are:
Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?
How old were you when you developed these diseases?
Also ask questions about other relatives, both living and deceased, such as:
- What is our family’s ancestry – what country did they come from?
- What diseases did your deceased relatives have?
- How old were they when they died?
- What caused their deaths?
Record the Information
Write this information down, and update it from time to time. To organize the information in your family health history, you could use a free web-based tool, such as “My Family Health Portrait,” located on cdc.gov.
Share with Your Doctor
Family health history can give you an idea of your risk for common diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but it is not the only risk factor. If you are concerned about diseases common in your family, talk to your doctor at your next visit. A doctor can evaluate all factors, including family health history, that may affect your risk of some diseases, and can recommend ways to reduce that risk.