A family medical history is a collection of information that documents relationships with certain family members in addition to the medical history of these relatives. The Genetics Home Reference defines a complete family medical history as medical health information for three generations of family members. A recorded medical history can help your doctor identify patterns of illnesses within your family and determine whether there is a higher risk of common disorders for patients. Conditions that can be revealed using a family medical history are discussed below.
Knowing your family medical history may allow doctors to understand your risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Having a close family member with a chronic condition increases your risk of having the same disease. When your doctor has access to your family medical history, he/she can determine which tests and screenings to conduct at your regular checkups. Diagnosing a chronic condition early on is an essential step towards preventing further health complications.
Additionally, identifying a high risk for developing a certain chronic condition can help your doctor recommend preventative measures. For example, if there is a history of heart disease in your family, your doctor will most likely recommend eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly to try to prevent or reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It’s important to note that having the genetic predisposition for a chronic condition does not indicate a definitive diagnosis. Healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions for many individuals.
The information found in a complete family medical history may indicate a pattern of inherited genetic disorders. If there is a genetic condition that is common in your family and you are planning on having children, your doctor may recommend genetic carrier screening. This is a blood test that detects genetic abnormalities associated with specific genetic disorders in healthy individuals.
Healthy individuals may have a genetic mutation that does not affect their health in any way. These individuals are referred to as genetic carriers. However, when two parents are genetic carriers (each with one copy of the same genetic mutation), the child is at risk of inheriting two copies of the abnormal gene. When this happens, the child will develop a genetic condition.
How to Collect a Family History
The information that should be collected as part of a family medical history includes:
- Any diagnosis of a genetic disorder or chronic condition
- The age at which the diagnosis was made
- The age and cause of death of family members diagnosed with a genetic disorder or a chronic condition
Relevant family members include parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sister. You can collect this information by asking close family members such as your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Be sure to update this information regularly, whenever you learn something new or a new condition occurs.
Using Your Family History to Improve Your Personal Health
Once you have collected your family medical history, share it with your doctor. Understanding your family medical history allows you and your doctor to make proactive decisions regarding your health and the health of your family.