Gather and Share Your Family Health History
Collect Health Information at Family Holiday Gatherings
The holiday season offers many opportunities for families to share a meal and their family health history. This information can help your doctor decide which tests and screenings are recommended to help you know your health risks. The updated Surgeon General's My Family Health Portrait tool can help you and your family to collect and organize family health history information and allows you to share this information easily with your doctor.
Family Health History is Important
- Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments, which together may affect their risk of developing health problems.
- A person with a close relative affected by a chronic disease (e.g., cancer, heart disease, or diabetes) or a health condition (e.g., high blood pressure and high cholesterol) may have a higher risk of developing that disease than a person who does not have an affected relative.
- Family health history can help doctors choose screening tests, such as earlier cholesterol screening for people with heart disease in the family that occurs at younger ages.
Americans know that family health history is important to their health. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. One survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family health history is important. Yet, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history. Are you ready to collect your family health history but don't know where to start?
Talk to Your Family
Write down the names of blood relatives you need to include in your history.
- The most important relatives to talk to for your family health history are your parents, brothers and sisters, and your children.
- Next, you may want to talk to grandparents, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and any half-brothers or half-sisters.
- It is also helpful to talk to great uncles and aunts, as well as cousins.
Among the questions to ask are:
- Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
- Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?
- How old were you when you developed these diseases?
Also ask questions about other relatives, both living and deceased, such as:
- What is our family's ancestry – what country did they come from?
- What diseases did your deceased relatives have?
- How old were they when they died?
- What caused their deaths?
Record the Information
Write this information down, and update it from time to time. To organize the information in your family health history you could use a free web-based tool such as My Family Health Portrait.
Share with Your Doctor
Family health history can give you an idea of your risk for common diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but it is not the only risk factor. If you are concerned about diseases that are common in your family, talk to your doctor at your next visit. A doctor can evaluate all of the factors, including family health history, that may affect your risk of some diseases, and can recommend ways to reduce that risk.
- Family History Public Health Initiative
- Family Healthware™ collection tool
- Family Health History
- Family History Frequently Asked Questions
- Family History and Your Child
- Diseases and Family History
- Family Health History Tool Kit from Utah [PDF - 5.99 MB] and Genetic Alliance Family History Toolkit [PDF 1.43 MB]
- Family Health History e-Card
- Page last reviewed: November 12, 2013
- Page last updated: November 12, 2013
- Content source:
- Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs