A family health history is a written record of a family’s health. The history contains information about a family’s medical conditions, lifestyle habits (for example, whether anyone in the family has smoked), and where and how family members grew up. It’s like a family tree for health.
What a Family Health History May Reveal
You can use a family health history to see if you, your children, or your grandchildren might face an increased risk of developing serious health problems. These health problems might be common ones, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. They could also be less common diseases that are passed from one generation to the next, such as hemophilia or sickle cell anemia.
People can’t change the genes they inherit from their parents, but they can change things like diet, physical activity, and medical care to try to prevent diseases that run in the family. This is good news because many diseases result from a combination of a person’s genes, lifestyle, and environment.
Actions That May Reduce Disease Risk
A health care professional can use a family health history to help assess a person’s risk of certain diseases. The professional might recommend actions to lower the chance of getting those diseases.
Actions to reduce the risk of disease may involve lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier foods or exercising more getting certain medical tests taking medicines that are more effective based on your specific genes.
For example, a son with a family history of diabetes might be told to lose weight and exercise more. A daughter who is considering having a baby might get tested to see if she carries a gene for a rare condition that runs in the family.
How You and Your Family May Benefit
For older adults, a family health history might help explain why you have developed certain health conditions. But it is important to know that simply getting older increases the risk of many diseases, too.
Creating and sharing your family health history with your health care professional can help you be healthier. But perhaps the biggest benefit is providing information that may help your children and grandchildren live longer, healthier lives.