Family Health History and Your Child

a family with a healthy meal

You might not realize that your mother’s diabetes or your cousin’s sickle cell disease could affect your child, but collecting your family history information can be important for keeping your child healthy.

Family health history can help your child’s doctor make a diagnosis if your child shows signs of a disease. It can also reveal whether your child has an increased risk for a disease. If so, the doctor might suggest screening tests. Many genetic diseases first become obvious in childhood, and knowing about a history of a genetic condition can help find and treat the condition early.

Conditions such as autism spectrum disorderattention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders such as dyslexia, anxiety and depression, and certain birth defects can run in families. Your child’s doctor might already check your child for these conditions and other developmental, behavioral, learning, and mental health conditions. However, knowing if you, your other children, or any other family members from either side of the family have one of these conditions might help the doctor find the condition earlier if your child shows signs or symptoms. Finding and acting on these conditions earlier can result in improved outcomes for your child. Sometimes, parents recognize that they have a previously undetected condition, such as ADHD, when their child receives a diagnosis, and can get their own diagnosis and treatment. Understanding your family history may help your entire family.

Most people do not think that chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes affect children, but children with a strong family history of these diseases can show signs in childhood. However, having a family history of a disease does not mean that your child will get that disease. Children with a family history of chronic diseases can benefit from developing good lifestyle habits, such as exercising and eating healthy, right away. These habits can benefit the entire family and might help prevent or delay chronic diseases.

Family Health History Checklist: Your Child [PDF – 126 KB]

□ Record the names of your child’s close relatives from both sides of the family: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Include conditions each relative has or had, and at what age the conditions were first diagnosed.

□ Use the US Surgeon General’s online tool for collecting family histories, called “My Family Health Portrait.”

□ Discuss family health history concerns with your child’s doctor. Gather family history information before seeing the doctor. Even if you don’t know all of your child’s family health history information, share what you do know with your doctor. Fill out family history forms carefully. Families that might have another child should share family health history information with the mother’s doctor.

□ Update your child’s family health history regularly and share new information with your child’s doctor. Check with relatives between your child’s visits with a doctor to see if they have any newly diagnosed conditions.

Family Health History Tips for Adoption and Sperm and Egg Donation

If you are adopting a baby

It might be frustrating not to have all of the family health history information for your child, but any information can be helpful.


If you used a sperm or egg donor to get pregnant

  • Save all family health history information about the donor as available.


If you are adopted

  • If available, collect medical information on your birth relatives. Laws concerning medical information collection vary by state.
    • Some adoption agencies collect medical information on birth relatives.
    • The Child Welfare Information Gateway has information on adoption, which could be helpful if you decide to search for your birth parents.
    • Contact your state’s health and social service agency for information about how to access medical or legal records.