Get to Know Your Family’s Health
When it comes to your health, there are some factors you can control. Eating a nutritious diet, making time for exercise, getting plenty of sleep and managing day-to-day stress can all help you stay healthy. Yet you can’t control other health factors, like your age and your genetics.
Your genetic makeup plays a role in determining your risk of developing certain diseases. That’s where your family’s health history comes in play. Gathering information from your blood relatives about their health and any diseases or conditions they’ve had may help you and your doctor assess the likelihood of developing them. This health history may also spur you to make lifestyle changes and may allow your physician to provide you more targeted care.
To create your health history record, start with your closest blood relatives (in-laws, step relatives and adoptees don’t share the same genes as you), like your parents, siblings and children. Then add other relations like your aunts, uncles and grandparents. Explain that you’re creating a family health history and you want to share the information with your doctor. They may want a copy as well!
Gather information about as many relatives as you can. For those who’ve passed away, ask other relatives if they can tell you about that person’s health issues. You’ll want to include the following information:
• When the person was born (and when he or she died, if applicable).
• Whether the person had or has any chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
• If they do, ask at what age he or she was when diagnosed. (The “age of onset,” or when a condition began, is helpful for your doctor to know and may help determine your risk of it.)
• Whether the person had or has other serious conditions like cancer, a heart attack or stroke. Again, ask how old he or she was when it occurred, and whether it was treated successfully.
• Whether any female relatives had any trouble getting pregnant or having children.
• Whether any relatives had or have birth defects, genetic issues like Down syndrome or learning disabilities.
• The causes of death for people in your family who have already passed away.
Use a template like this one to record your relatives’ health history and update it as necessary. This family snapshot may never hang on your wall, but it may make a big difference in your health to come.