Do you know your family's health history?
Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that together may influence their health and their risk of chronic disease. Most people have a family health history of some chronic disease (e.g., cancer, coronary heart disease, and diabetes) and health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure and hypercholesterolemia). People who have a close family member with a chronic disease may have a higher risk of developing that disease than those without such a family member. By noticing patterns of disorders among relatives, healthcare professionals can determine whether an individual, other family members, or future generations may be at an increased risk of developing a particular condition.
A family health history is a written or graphic record of the diseases and health conditions present in your family. A useful family health history shows three generations of your biological relatives, the age at diagnosis, and the age and cause of death of deceased family members. Family health history is a useful tool for understanding health risks and preventing disease in individuals. Your family health history can give you an idea of your risk for chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, but it is not the only factor to consider. If you are concerned about diseases that are common in your family, talk to your doctor at your next visit. A doctor can evaluate all of the factors, including family health history that may affect your risk for some diseases, and can recommend ways to reduce that risk.
What if you have no family history? Even if you don’t have a history of a particular health problem in your family, you could still be at risk. This is because your lifestyle, personal medical history, and other factors influence your chances of getting a disease. You may be unaware of disease in some family members. You could have family members who died young, before they had a chance to develop chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer. Being aware of your family health history is an important part of a lifelong wellness plan.
To start understanding your family health history, visit the My Family Health Portrait webpage! For more information about the importance of understanding your family health history, visit the Center for Disease Control's webpage!