About Family Health History

Key points

  • It's important to collect your family health history and share it with your healthcare provider.
  • Your healthcare provider can use your family health history to develop a more complete picture of your health and your risk factors for disease. Together you can work on ways to reduce that risk.

More Information


Family health history is a record of the diseases and health conditions in your family. You and your family members share genes. You may also have behaviors in common, such as exercise habits and what you like to eat. You may live in the same area and come into contact with similar things in the environment. Family history includes all of these factors, any of which can affect your health.

Collect your family health history

You may know a lot about your family health history or only a little. To get the complete picture, use family gatherings as a time to talk about health history. If possible, look at death certificates and family medical records. Collect information about your parents, sisters, brothers, half-sisters, half-brothers, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Include information on major medical conditions, causes of death, age at disease diagnosis, age at death, and ethnic background.

Be sure to update the information regularly and share what you've learned with your family and with your healthcare provider. You can use the Surgeon General's web-based tool called My Family Health Portrait to keep track of the information.

Why family health history is important

Most people have a family health history of at least one chronic disease, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. If you have a close family member with a chronic disease, you may be more likely to develop that disease yourself, especially if more than one close relative has (or had) the disease or a family member got the disease at a younger age than usual.

Collect your family health history information before visiting your healthcare provider and take it with you. Even if you don't know all of your family health history information, share what you do know. Family health history information, even if incomplete, can help your healthcare provider decide which screening tests you need and when those tests should start.

Act on your family health history

You can't change your genes, but you can change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, not exercising or being active, and poor eating habits. If you have a family health history of disease, you may have the most to gain from lifestyle changes and screening tests. In many cases, healthy habits can reduce your risk for diseases that run in your family. Screening tests, such as blood sugar testing, mammograms, and colorectal cancer screening, help find early signs of disease. Finding disease early can often mean better health in the long run.

How to act on your family health history‎‎

Did your mother or sister have breast cancer before age 50? Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you should be referred for genetic counseling and testing.

Does your mom, dad, sister, or brother have diabetes? Ask your healthcare provider how early you should be screened for diabetes.

Did your mom, dad, brother, or sister get colorectal (colon) cancer before age 50? Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you should start getting colonoscopies earlier or have them done more often.