The Importance of Your Family Health History

If you’re going to be with family on Thanksgiving, we’d like to suggest a conversation topic: family health history. Did you know that Thanksgiving is also National Family Health History Day? It was planned that way (by the U.S. Surgeon General in 2004) because so many nuclear and extended families come together on this holiday—and their health history can impact yours.

Why does it matter if you have information about the history of health in your family? Common diseases often run in families, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. If a doctor can trace the history of the disease in your family, that information can be used for preventive treatments. Doctors will have a better chance of predicting the disorders that you might face. Then, you can take action to protect your health and avoid these diseases.

For example, if you have a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer, your doctor might recommend that you start mammography screening earlier. Your doctor also might refer you for cancer genetic counseling, especially if your relative was diagnosed before age 50.

Not only can trends be identified for common health concerns, but doctors can use the information for other rare conditions as well. For example, a medical professional might look for the risk of sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis.

Collecting family medical history

You may know a lot about your family health history or only a little. To get the complete picture, use family gatherings such as Thanksgiving as a time to talk about health history. If possible, look at death certificates and family medical records. Collect information about your parents, sisters, brothers, half-sisters, half-brothers, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews.

Include information on major medical conditions, causes of death, age at disease diagnosis, age at death, and ethnic background. Be sure to update the information regularly and share what you’ve learned with your family and with your doctor.

How to create your family health portrait

The American Medical Association offers a free family health history PDF that you can download and use to record what you find. It even includes a sample family tree illustration that may help. The information gathered in this tool can be given to your healthcare provider. Make sure to save the information so that it can be updated as things change in the future. Also be sure to share it with your family members.

Help finding medical resources

It can be a challenge navigating the health care system. If you need someone to help, you are welcome to talk to our team at Windward Life Care. We provide the tools and resources you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here’s our contact info.