Family Health History Genetics

Knowing your family health history is an important part of being able to maintain your health. For example, understanding what types of diseases other members of your family have suffered from can help you learn which conditions you are more at risk of developing during your lifetime.

Some health problems you may disposed to due to your family health history include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • cancers
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Sickle Cell Anemia.

Keep in mind that, in addition to physical health problems, you can also inherit mental health problems from your biological family. Some mental disorders that run in family health histories may include:

  • anxiety disorder
  • bipolar disorder
  • dementia
  • depression
  • schizophrenia.

To be fully aware of what types of mental and physical disorders you have an increased risk of developing, get started mapping out your family health history.

How to Get Started

While over 95 percent of Americans agree that knowing their family health histories is important, only about 33 percent actually have written documentation that thoroughly records it. If you are among the 67 percent of people who do not have thorough knowledge of their family medical histories, here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Draw out an extended family tree that includes your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Try to include as many generations back as possible.
  2. Note the chronic health problems each of these relatives had. Include information causes of death for those who have passed away.
  3. For those relatives who you don’t have information about, talk to your family. Similarly, be sure you cross check the information you recorded with other family members to ensure that your preliminary family history map is on the right track.
  4. If you were adopted and do not know anything about your bio family’s medical history, often adoption agencies keep medical history on file.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative

In recognition of the importance of having each person know their family medical history, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began a national public health project known as the U.S. Surgeon General’s Family Health Initiative. This campaign offers families online tools to help them easily record a complete outline of their family medical histories.

Once a person has completed the history, he can print it out, share it with his family and take it into his doctor, if need be. This online tool is free, and none of the information you enter will be kept or recorded once you print out your family health history.

National Family History Day

Along with Family Health Initiative, the U.S. Surgeon General has named Thanksgiving Day to also be “National Family History Day.” Thanksgiving Day 2007 marked the 4th annual National Family History Day in the United States. The reason that the U.S. Surgeon General set National Family History Day on Thanksgiving Day is to help remind people to talk about their family health histories while the entire family is gathered together.

The Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services are helping raise awareness about the importance of knowing family health histories in a variety of other ways. Some of their methods of getting the word out on their public health campaigns include:

  • linking their Websites to primary care physician’s sites
  • making and distributing educational videos
  • sending posters and pamphlets to doctors that they can pass out to their patients.

Resources

US Department of Health and Human Services (updated November 15, 2007). US Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative. Retrieved January 9, 2008 from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Website: http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/.