Why Should You Know Your Family Medical History?

If your uncle has heart disease, your grandmother had a stroke and a cousin has diabetes, you’d likely feel empathy for them, and there’s something else you should do.

You should keep a record of these conditions. This information is part of your family medical history.

Your family medical history is a record of health information about you and your close relatives. This information can help your health care professionals determine if you, your family members, or future generations might be at higher risk for developing particular conditions.

The information can also help your health care provider determine if you or someone in your family could benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor for a hereditary risk assessment.

Your family medical history should contain health information from three generations, including:

  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Children
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Nieces and nephews
  • Cousins

The record should note family diagnoses of conditions such as:

What This Information Means to You

Risks for these and other genetic disorders can run in families. You and your family share genes and likely a similar environment and lifestyles. Your health care provider can discuss how these factors might affect your health risks.

It’s important to know that having diagnoses of these conditions in your family doesn’t mean that you’ll develop any of the conditions, and people with no family history of these conditions still may have risks.

But knowing these conditions are in your family allows you and your health care provider to explore your options and take steps to reduce your risks.

For example, if you have increased risk of certain cancers, your health care professional may suggest you have screenings more often than people with average risk. Screenings that might be recommended include mammographies and colonoscopies.

You may want to consider lifestyle changes such as opting for a healthier diet, increasing your exercise activity and quitting smoking. These changes can reduce your risks of developing heart disease and other common disorders.

How to Collect Your Family History

Start by visiting with your family members about the family medical history. Explain the benefits of the family medical history, and ask your family about their health and conditions others in the family may have.

Records such as death certificates and obituaries can provide additional information.

Once you’ve gathered information, plan to keep it up to date with changes. Share it with others in the family so they can help keep it updated.

Share this valuable information with your health care professionals as well.

You’ll find helpful online tools that make it easier to organize and save your family medical history. A family medical history is another step forward in keeping your family healthy and living well!

Meet the Author

David M. Jenks, MD is an Internal Medicine physician at the Aurora Health Center in Milwaukee, WI

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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