Most of us know that we can reduce our risk of disease by maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and not smoking, but did you know that your family history might be one of the strongest influences on your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer? You share many factors with your family, such as genes, common behaviors, eating habits, exercise routines, environments, and lifestyles. Your family history includes all of these, which can affect your health. Even though you cannot change your genetic makeup, knowing your family medical history can help reduce your risk of developing health problems.
What is family health history?
Family health history, sometimes referred to as a medical family tree, is a record of diseases and health conditions in your family.
How is my family health history used?
A family medical history can reveal the history of disease in your family and help identify patterns that might be relevant to your own health. The genetic information you inherit from your parents might cause or increase your risk of certain medical conditions. Your health care provider might use this information to:
- Assess your risk of certain diseases
- Recommend changes in diet or other lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of disease
- Recommend medications or treatments to reduce the risk of disease
- Determine which diagnostic tests to order
- Determine the type and frequency of screening tests
- Determine whether you or family members should get a specific genetic test
- Identify a condition that might not otherwise be considered
- Identify other family members who are at risk of developing a certain disease
- Assess your risk of passing conditions on to your children
Why is family health history important for my health?
By noticing patterns of disorders amongst family, health care providers can determine whether an individual, other family members, or future generations may be at an increased risk of developing a particular condition. Most people have a family health history of at least one chronic disease, like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. If you have a close family member with a chronic disease, you may be more likely to develop that disease yourself, especially if more than one has or had the disease at a young age. Your family medical history can't predict your future health, but it can provide you with information about future risk.
Has your mother or sister had breast cancer? Talk with your primary care provider about whether having a mammogram earlier is right for you. Does your mom, dad, sister, or brother have diabetes? Ask your primary care provider how early you should be screened for diabetes. Did your mom, dad, brother, or sister get colon cancer before age 50? Talk with your primary care provider about whether you should start getting colonoscopies earlier or have them done more often. Knowing and acting on your family health history is an important way to protect your health. The easiest way to get information is to talk to relatives about their health. Have they had any medical problems and when did they occur? A family gathering could be a good time to discuss these issues. Take this time during the holiday season to collect your family health history and share it with your primary care provider at your next visit.
Don’t have a health care provider? We can help with that! Community Care has primary care offices located throughout the Capital Region. For assistance with finding a doctor, please visit our website or call our Concierge Care Coordinator at (518) 782-3800.