How to Start a Family Health History

The genes you inherited from your parents determine things like the color of your eyes, the amount of melanin in your skin, and the potential height you might reach. Some of the genes that you inherited from your parents may include an increased risk for certain diseases. Creating a family health history can educate your relatives about health issues that “run in the family”.

Family Health Histories are Beneficial
Your family health history can help you, and your relatives, recognize signs and symptoms that are important. This can lead to early detection and treatment. Your family health history can inform younger generations about potential risks for genetically inherited diseases and conditions. A family health history can be shared with doctors.

Be Respectful When Asking About Health
Many people feel embarrassed to talk about their health issues – especially the symptoms. This is true for both physical health issues and mental health issues. Be respectful when asking your relatives about their health problems. Speak to each relative by themselves and in a location where no one can overhear what they share.

Make it clear that you want to compile this information into a family health history, and get their permission to use what they tell you. Assure them that you will remove their name from the specific health conditions. Remind them that the purpose of gathering this information is to help the whole family be healthier.

Do Some Genealogy
Look for the obituaries and death records of relatives and ancestors who have passed away. There could be clues about what their cause of death was – and perhaps some information about other health issues they had. Funeral home records might also reveal helpful information.

Some of your relatives might have paper copies of their medical records. Ask them if they would be comfortable sending you copies of those records.

Put it All Together
The United States Department of Health and Human Services has a free tool that people can use to store their family health portrait. It allows you to enter your family history and learn about your risk for conditions that run in your family.

You can print out your family health portrait and share it with your relatives. The information you put into your family health portrait can be saved and updated over time.

Related Articles at

* Reasons You Might Not Know Cancer Runs In Your Family

* Create Your Medical Family Tree

* Tips for Talking About Genetics with Your Family

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