It's the time of year when many families gather for the holidays, which means it's also a great time to learn about your family health history.
Discussing medical conditions or diseases among family members may help determine if you have a high risk for a disease.
That’s because our genes, which we inherit from our birth mother and father, are important in determining our health. For example, sickle cell disease—a blood disorder—is caused by gene mutations that come from a parent.
But just because your parents or other family members have a condition doesn’t mean you have it now or will in the future. That’s why learning about your health history and risk and sharing that information with a doctor is important.
A family medical history can:
- Reveal early warning signs of a condition or disease
- Provide health care providers with information so they can recommend treatment, and assess and possibly reduce risk
- Help improve family members' lifestyles to reduce risk
- Inform a woman of certain genes she has before pregnancy
How to collect a family medical history
There are different ways to collect family health information. You can choose one family member to collect all the health information from various relatives or have each relative fill out their own health record. You can also create a checklist that is organized by medical condition.
If a family member does not want to discuss their health issues around other people, ask to pull them aside and have a private conversation. Try to remind them of the importance of having a family health history.
But remember that health can often be an emotionally charged topic. Listen carefully and try to be as respectful and patient as possible.
For adopted children or children of sperm or egg donations, health records may be available from the original adoption or donation agencies. Genetic testing can also help determine certain conditions.
So, what are good health questions to ask your family? Here are a few you can start with:
- What is your ethnic background?
- Where do you live?
- Where were you born?
- How old were you or your relative when they developed the medical condition(s)?
- How many people in your family have had the same conditions or diseases?
- Have you or any of your family members been tested for genetic mutations (cell changes)?
- How old were your deceased relatives when they died, and how did they die?
- What diseases or medical conditions have you had?