Family Health History for Adults

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Knowing and acting on your family health history can be an important part of staying healthy. Family health history can help your doctor decide what screening tests and other interventions you need and when. For example, if you have a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer, your doctor might recommend that you start mammography screening earlier. Your doctor also might refer you for cancer genetic counseling, especially if your relative was diagnosed before age 50.

Take the time to collect your family health history information from your family members. It might not be easy – your family members might not be used to talking about their diseases or might not want to talk. But starting the conversation is important. Remember, you’re asking not just for your own health, but for the health of everyone in your family.

If you have a medical condition, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, be sure to let your family members know about your diagnosis. If you have had genetic testing done, share your results with your family members. If you are one of the older members of your family, you may know more about diseases and health conditions in your family, especially in relatives who are no longer living. Be sure to share this information with your younger relatives so that you may all benefit from knowing this family health history information.

Are you ready to collect your family health history but don’t know where to start? Here’s how!

Family Health History Checklist: Adults [PDF – 145 KB]

Talk to your family. Write down the names of blood relatives you need to include in your history. The most important relatives to include in 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 half-brothers and half-sisters.

Ask questions. To find out about your risk for chronic diseases, ask your relatives about which of these diseases they have had and when they were diagnosed. Questions can include

o Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?

o Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?

o How old were you when each of these diseases and health conditions was diagnosed?

o What is our family’s ancestry – from what countries did our ancestors come to the United States?

o For relatives who have died, be sure to ask about cause and age of death.

Record the information. Write this information down, and be sure to 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 the Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait. My Family Health Portrait allows you to share this information easily with your doctor.

Share family health history information with your doctor and other family members. Your family health history can give you an idea of your risk for chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but it is not the only factor to consider. If you are concerned about diseases that are common in your family, talk with your doctor at your next visit. A doctor can evaluate all of the factors that may affect your risk of some diseases, including family health history, and can recommend ways to reduce that risk.

Act on your family health history. Having a family health history of a disease does not mean that you or your family members will definitely get that disease. It is important that you talk with your doctor about steps that you can take to lower your chances of getting the disease. You have already taken the first step by learning about your family health history!

Your family members’ chronic diseases can be important for your health

Having one or more family members with a chronic disease can make you more likely to get that disease yourself. Find out what it means for you if you have a family health history of