A family health history is a record of the medical conditions in your family, including chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental health disorders, and Alzheimer’s. Other elements of your family health history may include behaviors, like exercise, sleep, and eating habits. Environmental factors, like your occupation and where your family lives, also play a role says Ronak Shah, MD, a physician at Mass General Brigham Urgent Care.
If you have a close family member with a chronic disease, you may be more likely to develop that disease yourself, especially if they were diagnosed at a young age. There may be a genetic component to the disease, or there may be lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk. If you have information about your family health history, you can take preventive measures.
The more information you have on your family’s health, the better, especially for immediate family members. This includes:
Information on other family members like aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews might be helpful to have as well. You don’t need to include family members who you aren’t related to by blood, such as stepparents, adopted relatives, or your spouse.
Information that can help your doctor includes:
While you can’t change the genes you’ve inherited from your family members, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing the chronic diseases that run in your family. Sharing your family health history with your primary care provider and other specialists can help them ensure you get the right care at the right time.
For example, your doctor may recommend additional health screening tests, like mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colorectal cancers, and bloodwork to monitor for high cholesterol or diabetes. Your doctor also may recommend lifestyle changes like a healthy eating, exercise, and stopping smoking.
“Family history can also be useful in calculating risk of passing a disease to your child, as done in prenatal counseling,” says Dr. Shah. “As technology improves and scientists gather more and more genetic information from our cells, doctors will be able to provide more precise calculations of your risk of various diseases.”