Many of us know that we can take charge of our health and manage our risk for conditions and diseases through getting enough exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and not smoking. However, some of us don’t realize that our family health history can play an equally significant role in determining our risk level. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke are only some of the conditions that can be heavily influenced by genetics. Why is knowing your family health history so important, and how can you track it?
Family health history is a record of health information about you, your parents, your siblings and your other close relatives. A complete family health history involves records pertaining to the past three generations of your family, and ideally it would include information about brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents and more. Because families share a genetic background in common, a family health history can give doctors hints as to what you might be experiencing or help them educate you about your risk factors. Keep in mind that a relative having a health condition does not mean that you will develop it. Instead, it’s a starting place.
Many people have a family health history that indicates the genetic transmission of at least one disease or condition, like diabetes or heart disease. When our family members have these diseases with a known genetic component, it can mean that we are also more likely to get the disease. If you don’t know your family health history, you might be at an increased risk for a disease or condition and never know or have the chance to lower that risk through other lifestyle changes.
The Surgeon General created a free tool where you can track your family health history. You can enter the information that you have about your relatives into the tool. When you are speaking with your loved ones in the process of creating the chart or health history, you should take care to note:
The more complete that your health history is, the easier that it will be for your doctor to use it.
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