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Know Your Family Health History

Release Date: November 10, 2021

Most people have a family health history that includes at least one chronic disease, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Knowing and acting on your family health history is a great way to protect your own health.

Though some family health conditions are genetic, you can help lower your risk of certain conditions by practicing healthy behaviors, like exercising and being active, developing healthy eating habits, and refraining from smoking or vaping. Knowing your family health history can also help your doctor develop a more complete picture of your health and your risk factors for disease as you age.

To create your family health history, you will need to collect information that you can share with your healthcare provider. Consider using the below tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a guide.

  • Talk to your family and ask specific questions. Write down the names of your close relatives from both sides of the family: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Ask your relatives about which conditions they have and when they were diagnosed.  
  • Record the information and update it whenever you learn new family health history information. You can use My Family Health Portrait, a free web-based tool from the CDC to help you organize the information in your family health history and share it with your healthcare team.
  • Share family health history information with your doctor and other family members. If you are concerned about diseases that are common in your family, talk with your doctor. Share the information you have, even if you don’t know all your family health history.. Family health history information, even if incomplete, can help your doctor decide which screening tests you need and when those tests should start.

If you have a family health history of disease, you may have the most to gain from lifestyle changes and screening tests. You can’t change your genes, but in many cases healthy living habits can reduce your risk for diseases that run in your family. 

To learn more about the importance of knowing your family health history and how to act on the information you gain from family members, visit the CDC’s Family Health History webpage.

Last Updated: 11/10/2021
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