Have you ever created a family tree? For those who have, you might be familiar with how much more knowledge and understanding you gain about your family history — as well as how much you learn about yourself in the process. Creating a family health history is similar: you’re seeking to help you and your doctors understand more about your health through your family’s medical history.
Read on to learn more about what a family health history is, how having one can improve your health and tips on how to create your own.
What is a Family Health History?
A family health history is a record of the health conditions and diseases that run in your family. You and your family share genes, and you may have similar behaviors, lifestyle habits and environmental influences if you live in the same area. Your family health history includes facts like these — detailing anything that can impact your health.
It’s important to be aware of health problems that run in your family so you can do everything in your power to mitigate them. It isn’t a guarantee that if your mother, father and/or a grandparent had cancer that you or your children will too, for example. But being aware of the increased risk allows you to look for signs and get any necessary tests and screenings.
How Can a Family Health History Improve My Health?
Did your mother, sister or grandmother have breast cancer? Do your father and brother have diabetes? Most people have a family health history of at least one chronic illness such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes or an autoimmune disease.
You become more likely to develop a disease yourself if you have a close family member who has it. You’re even more at risk if multiple relatives have (or had) the disease, or if a family member got the disease at a young age.
You can’t change your genetics, but you can choose to live a healthy lifestyle, like being tobacco-free, exercising or being active regularly, and maintaining a nutritious diet. If you have a family health history of illness, you may have much to gain from lifestyle choices and/or changes along with screening tests.
In many cases, a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk for diseases that run in your family. Routine screenings, such as blood sugar tests, mammograms and other cancer screenings help find early signs of disease. Finding disease early can often mean better health and longevity.
Tips on Creating Your Family Health History
Whether you know a lot or a little about your family health history, it’s a good idea to get a more detailed picture. You can ask about health history at family get-togethers. Talk as specifically as you can with your parents, grandparents, siblings, children and other blood relatives like aunts, uncles and cousins.
Ask your questions with care since talking about health can be a sensitive topic for some. Finding a private space to talk, explaining why you’re inquiring and asking if they’re comfortable discussing health issues will show consideration for their feelings.
Some pertinent questions to ask include:
- Do you have any chronic health conditions?
- Have you had other serious illnesses?
- How old were you when you first developed the condition or illness?
- Did anyone in our family have congenital disabilities?
- What about learning or developmental problems?
- Did any family members have mental health issues?
- What illnesses did family members have who are no longer with us?
- How old were they when they died?
- What was the cause of death?
After finding out as much as you can from family members, fill in any gaps with more detailed information by checking public records such as death certificates, and family medical records.
In your family health history, include information on major medical conditions, causes of death, age at diagnosis, age at death and ethnic background.
The Whole Picture
After you’ve created a thorough family health history, update it regularly and share what you’ve learned with your primary care doctor. This will help you and your care team have the whole picture of your health so we can help you be whole in body, mind and spirit.