Don't forget to update your family health history

You have a lot in common with your family. Think about it. Has anybody ever told you, “You have your mom’s eyes,” or “You have your grandfather’s nose”?

Your genes help paint a picture of who you are. They help determine your eye, hair, and skin color. They decide how you look, some of the ways you behave, and even your blood type. But most important, they can help doctors learn what types of health problems might be passed on to you.

Know your health history roots

Put simply, your health history family tree—often called your family medical history—is a record of illnesses and health conditions that run in your family. These illnesses can range from cancer to heart disease to high blood pressure.

Chances are you have a family member who suffers from some type of health condition. If you do, you may have a higher chance of developing this condition as well. By knowing your health history family tree, you can pass this information along to your doctor.

Help your health grow and flourish.

While a health history family tree can’t predict the future of your health, it can be a vital tool for your doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic, your family medical history can help doctors:

  • Identify medical conditions and determine your risk of certain diseases
  • Recommend treatments or ways to lower your risks
  • Determine which screenings and tests to run on you.
  • Create a schedule for the frequency you should be tested for certain conditions.
  • Decide whether you or family members should get a specific genetic test.
  • Establish whether other family members are at risk of developing a certain disease.
  • Predict your potential of passing a condition on to your children.1

The sooner you start developing your healthy history family tree, the sooner you can start using it to help protect your health.

Planting your health history family tree

How much do you know about your family’s healthy history? It might be a little or a lot. Use your next family gathering to talk to about it. Discuss illnesses that run in the family. Learn about any new conditions family members may have developed in the last year. Then write down the information and take it with you to your next doctor visit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says the most useful version of your health history family tree should include:

  • A health history for three generations of your family.
  • Any illnesses or medical conditions within your family, and the ages when they occurred. 
  • Age and cause of death of family members.2

If you need help collecting and organizing your health history family tree, the CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics and the U.S. Surgeon General have created My Family Health Portrait. This free website has all the forms you will need to start collecting your family health history.

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