Why You Should Know Your Family Health History

Family members share a lot in common with one another. They often have similar lifestyle habits, eat similar types of food, and enjoy the same types of activities. They can even share the same kinds of health problems. Knowing your family health history provides you with the information that you need to protect your health.

Does diabetes run in your family? What about heart disease? Is obesity common in your family? Knowing your family health history can help you protect your health. Click To Tweet

What is a family health history?

Your family health history, or family medical history, is the information about your personal health as well as the health of close relatives. This includes siblings, parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that a complete family medical history includes information from three generations.

Your health history should include health issues such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and mental health problems. Even things like alcoholism or depression that you might not think are meaningful should be included.

The more information you can include in your family medical history, the better.

Why do you need to know your family health history?

Looking at the health of one family member can provide clues about the health of another family member. Health problems aren’t always inherited, though. Your parents can have a health issue that isn’t passed on to you, and you may develop health issues that no one in your family has ever been diagnosed with.

However, some health issues do run in a family. An accurate family health history can help you know if you’re at an increased risk for certain health issues. This allows you to take the appropriate steps to lower your risk for these health issues, and it provides your doctor with the information she needs to provide the best possible health care.

  • You occasionally feel lightheaded and sometimes you feel a fluttering in your chest. Knowing your uncle has an abnormal heartbeat, and your grandfather had a heart condition, might encourage you to go to your doctor. Someone without this information might dismiss these symptoms
  • People with a family history of diabetes may decide to adjust their lifestyle to lower their risk for a disease that runs in their family. They may eat healthy foods and exercise daily to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • If you are at a high risk for colorectal cancers, your doctor may recommend screening for those cancers at an earlier age than is recommended for people at an average risk.

Collecting your family’s health information

Some families are open about health issues; they find it easy to talk about past and current health problems. Putting together a family health history may be a simple process for these families. Other families don’t discuss health problems as freely. However, feeling a little uncomfortable is a small price to pay for information that can protect your health and your family’s health. Share what you learn about your family medical history with your family and your doctor.

It’s important that you know your family health history, but it’s even more important for your primary care physician to know your family health history. The more that your doctor knows about your health and your family’s health, the better quality of care she can provide.

Be sure to meet with your doctor at least once a year for an annual wellness exam. Keep your physician informed on what’s happening with your health currently, and provide as much information about your family health history as possible.

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