The Importance of Family History

When you go to the doctor, you bring along your insurance card, photo ID, and any recent test results. There’s one more thing you need to bring with you: your family history.

Knowing your family history will give your doctor a better picture of your health. Many conditions—heart disease, autoimmune diseases, stroke, diabetes, etc.—run in families. When you have a family history of a certain condition, your doctor can screen regularly for it. Your doctor can also provide advice, treatment, or therapies to help you avoid the illness you’re at higher risk for.

Family History: The #1 Influence on your Health

Eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and living a healthful lifestyle are all important for maintaining your health. But family history may just be the strongest influence on your risk of developing certain diseases. Of course, you can’t change your genes, but being familiar with your family’s medical history will help reduce your risk of health problems.

When you have a family history of disease, you’re more likely to benefit from health screenings and lifestyle changes. For example, if colorectal cancer runs in your family, regular and early screenings can detect the cancer early and increase your chances of survival. Likewise, if several of your family members had heart disease, you can quit smoking and start exercising to reduce your risk.

Family History: Compile a Report

If you haven’t yet done this, start collecting a complete record of your family’s medical history. Speak to your relatives to find out about family illnesses, and look at family death certificates if possible.

Try to get the health information for three generations of biological relatives. Note any major medical conditions, ages of onset, and causes of death. It’s also important to note your ethnic background, since certain conditions are more common among specific ethnic groups.

Compile the information and share it with your primary doctor. This will help your doctor accurately assess your risk for disease. He will also be able to recommend lifestyle changes or prescribe screening tests.

You should also distribute your report among your children, siblings, or other relatives so they can benefit from your findings.

The Department of Health and Human Services has a handy tool on their website for people to track their family history. After you enter your personal information, the site gives you a form to add your biological relatives and their medical conditions. You can print the form or save it online for future reference.

Compiling your complete family history handy will benefit not only your own health, but also the health of your children and grandchildren.


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