With Thanksgiving approaching, there’s no better time to think about your family health history. In addition to Thanksgiving, November 23rd is also Family Health History Day. The easiest way to get information about your family history is to ask your relatives, and during the holidays, most of your family is conveniently gathered in the same place.
What is family health history?
Family health history isn’t just about genes or diseases that run in your family. Families often share behaviors – like exercise and eating habits – and environmental similarities. Each of these factors is a part of your family health history, however, poor habits can be changed to decrease your risk in some cases.
Why is it important to know your family history?
You might be surprised how much of your family’s health history can impact your own health and medical decisions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people have a family history of at least one chronic disease – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. – and as a result, you may be more likely to develop that specific disease yourself.
Obtaining as much information as you can will help you prevent or prepare for conditions such as
– Heart disease
– High blood pressure
– Certain cancers
– Genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease
Your family health history can also be important when planning a pregnancy, especially if your family history includes a birth defect, developmental disability, newborn screening disorder, or genetic condition. Knowing your history prior to pregnancy gives you adequate time to address any concerns and plan for a healthy baby.
Ideally, a complete family medical history will include three generations of relatives – children, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and cousins.
My family has a history of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Now what?
It’s important to inform your doctor of your family health history, even if it is only partially complete, and to regularly update your doctor of any changes.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle can help reduce your risk of many of the diseases that may run in your family. Additionally, frequent screening for diabetes and certain types of cancers can help detect early signs of disease.
The Surgeon General, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides tips and tools when beginning to gather your family health history. For more information, see the links below.
Why is it important to know my family medical history? – Genetics Home Reference
Family Health History: The Basics – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Family Health History and Planning for Pregnancy – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention