Sharing Your Family Health History

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to connect with family, eat great food and give thanks.

It's also a good time to listen closely to your relatives' stories about their health-Uncle Joe's blood sugar woes are more important than you may think.

Families often share genes, environment and lifestyles that can influence health. If someone in your family has a disease such as diabetes, stroke or cancer, you may be at risk for it too.

Knowing what types of health problems run in your family is essential for two reasons:

1. You can work with your doctor to determine what screening tests you may need and how often you should get them. For instance, if your dad and sister both had colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend that you get screened for the disease at a younger age or more frequently than other people. Screening tests can often find diseases early, when treatment is typically most effective.

2. You can take steps to help keep you healthy. Some diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease, can often be prevented or delayed by doing things like eating a healthy diet, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.

Ideally, you should know the health histories of close blood relatives on both sides of your family. This includes your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

You'll want to find out what conditions each relative has had and when they were first diagnosed. And if relatives have died, the causes of death and their ages. It's OK if some details are missing. Just gather as much information as you can.

Getting -and keeping- everyone's health history will be easier if you use an online tool from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It's called My Family Health Portrait, and you'll find it at

Once you've created a family health history, print out copies for your doctor-and your relatives.

It's something your family will be grateful for all year long.


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