Open Accessibility Menu

Know Your Family’s Health History

Know Your Family’s Health History

To most, the fourth Thursday of November is just Thanksgiving. But did you know it’s also National Family Health History Day? While your family is gathered this year, talk about the diseases or health conditions that run in your family. It may be an uncomfortable conversation for some, but it’s extremely important to know what you may be at risk of developing. With knowledge of your family’s health history, your doctor can offer additional screenings and preventive measures to take.

Common conditions that run in families include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure. You may already be aware of these conditions as they relate to your mother, father, or siblings, but can you say the same about your aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents? Having a family history of a disease doesn’t mean you will get it, but it does increase your risk. Knowing how to collect your family’s health history can help.

Have a conversation. Write down the names of your family members—parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. Talk to them about any health conditions they have or have had, and what age they developed them. Ask important questions:

  • Do you have any chronic diseases or health conditions?
  • Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?
  • How are/were you treated?
  • How old were you when you were diagnosed with each of these diseases or health conditions?
  • What were the ages and causes of death for relatives who have died?

Record any information you receive in an organized manner. This way, you can easily update it when you learn something new. My Family Health Portrait is a free web-based tool that allows you to record and organize your family health history. It’s easily sharable with family members or your doctor.

Talking to your doctor about your family’s health history will help get you the resources you need to lower your risk—whether that means lifestyle changes, screenings, or general information about the diseases or conditions. You can take certain preventive steps based on what runs in your family:

  • If you have a family history of colorectal cancer before the age of 50 or have multiple family members who have had the disease, ask your doctor about starting screenings at a younger age. They may recommend additional testing to access your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • If someone in your family has had breast cancer, ask your doctor when you should start mammography screenings. If a relative was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50, your doctor may recommend certain medications to decrease the risk of developing the disease.
  • If heart disease runs in your family, you can make lifestyle changes that lower your risk. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, limiting alcohol use, and maintaining a healthy weight can help.
  • If a family member has type 2 diabetes, you are more likely to develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Eating a diet that’s low in fats and sugars and maintaining a healthy weight can lower your risk. You can take a risk test to find out if you have prediabetes. Ask your doctor if you should be screened early.
  • If your family has a history of osteoporosis, ask your doctor about early screenings for the disease (screenings start at age 65 for most people).

With the right steps and information, you can manage the diseases and conditions you’re at risk for. At Frederick Health, treatment through prevention is the goal of your care—and our new Precision Medicine & Genetics service can help. Using leading-edge genetics technology, a dedicated genetics team will work with your current healthcare providers to identify your risk for chronic health conditions or serious disease, reduce unnecessary medications, prevent adverse drug reactions, and improve your overall healthcare journey. At the end, you will come away with a personalized disease prevention and treatment plan that's right for you.

For more information, please visit our Precision Medicine & Genetics webpage.