Creating a family health history can be very valuable, especially for your family’s children and grandchildren. Doctors have known for a long time that both common and rare diseases often run in families. An accurate family health history can help your doctor detect disorders that may eventually affect your family members, and help keep them healthier in the future.
Having a detailed knowledge of family medical history gives people the chance to take steps to reduce a particular risk. For instance, if your family history shows your offspring are at greater risk for developing colon cancer, more frequent screenings might be advised. Your healthcare provider may also encourage family members to lower their risk for certain diseases by adopting a healthier diet, exercising more, and quitting smoking.
A detailed family health history could also explain why you have developed a certain health condition even though you have worked hard to stay healthy and done everything “right.” Of course, we know that just getting older can increase our risk of getting certain diseases such as cancer.
Tips on Getting Started
The first step in creating a family health history is communicating with your “first degree” family relatives which include your parents, brothers and sisters, and children. Your second degree family members would be your half-brothers, half-sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Other blood relatives that are less close to you can also be useful. Be sure to explain to everyone that the information will be as beneficial to them as it is to you.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself and your family members:
- Do you suffer from any chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or asthma?
- Have you had any specific diseases such as cancer or stroke? If so, which ones?
- How old were you when you developed these problems?
- Have there been any birth defects, developmental problems, or Down’s syndrome in the family?
- Have you had any problems conceiving children?
It’s also important to know how long your grandparents lived and what caused their deaths when they died. Knowing what country your family came from is also important because certain inheritable diseases are more prevalent in certain population groups. Don’t worry too much if you can’t get all the information you would like. Even a partial family health history can be very useful.
Remember that even if you have a family history of certain diseases and health problems that doesn’t necessarily mean that you, your children or grandchildren will suffer from them. Disease is caused by a number of factors including lifestyle habits, the environment, as well as the genes you inherit. This means there are always ways people can decrease their risk of getting a certain health problem even if it runs in their family. For instance, when it comes to heart disease, unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking may be more important than genes in causing disease.
Because family health history is so important, the U.S. Surgeon General created a computerized tool called “My Family Health Portrait.” The tool allows you to create your family health history online and then print it out for your doctor and family members. The tool can be accessed here.
After you have finished your family health record you will want to keep it updated and in a safe place. Make sure that your children and grandchildren know about it so it will become a lasting legacy for your family.