Sharon Terry

By Sharon Terry. A peek into the past can reveal a lot about your future.

Family health history is the story of diseases that run in your family. It is one part of the entire history of your family. Along with culture, values, environment, and behaviors, family health history influences the way you live your life. Learning about your family health history can help you make healthy choices: It is a cheap, easy way to improve your own health and the health of your family. Share the information you gather with your healthcare provider to further reduce your risk of disease and create a partnership around your health.

Check out the Does It Run In the Family? toolkit in English and Spanish! “A Guide to Family Health History” explains the importance of family health history, how to collect it, and how to organize it. “A Guide to Genetics and Health” explains genetics 101 and gives information on conditions that can run in the family, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Customize these booklets for your family, organization, or community.

TIPS FOR COLLECTING YOUR FAMILY HEALTH HISTORY

Learn all you can about your family’s health!

How do I collect family health history?

  • Talk to your family!
    • Holidays and other family events (birthdays, weddings, religious gatherings) provide a great opportunity to ask family members about their lives.
    • Plan individual conversations to get more information.
  • Use what you have—existing charts or trees, photo albums, baby books, birthday date books, etc.
  • Send a survey. This can be part of a holiday newsletter or school project.

What information should I collect?

Collect information on you, your parents, siblings, and children, and then move on to the extended family:

  • name and relationship to you (myself, parent, child, etc.)
  • ethnicity, race, and/or origins of family
  • place and date of birth (or your best guess—for example, “1940s”)
  • if deceased, age and cause of death
  • health history—include conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer—and when the disease started
  • lifestyle (occupation, exercise, diet, habits such as smoking and regular doctor check-ups)

Collect stories about your heritage and culture. This is an excellent opportunity to preserve your family’s memories.

What should I do with the information I collect?

  • Bring it to your healthcare provider. S/he might refer you to a genetics specialist or recommend early screening.
  • Use it to make healthy lifestyle choices. You can change your diet and exercise habits to reduce your risk for many conditions.
  • Share it with your family. Shared knowledge can lead to support.
  • Keep adding to your family health history. It is a lifelong process!

For more family health history resources, click here.

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