Documenting Your Family Medical History Is a Gift for Current and Future Generations
When you’re filling out health history forms at the doctor’s office, it’s not always easy to recall all your own medical conditions over the years, let alone your family’s. You inherit half your genetic makeup from each parent, blending their disease history into your own genes, so a family health history, or what’s also called a medical family tree, can pinpoint patterns in health conditions. While your family medical history does not predict your future health, it can help determine if you, your children or grandchildren are at risk for hereditary conditions including diabetes or cancer.
Family gatherings and reunions can be a natural situation to discuss a family medical history with blood relatives. Since 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General has annually declared Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day. The SurgeonGeneral.gov website offers a secure My Family Health Portrait tool to help families create a personalized medical history. The American Medical Association also presents a number of resources for documenting family health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention answers common questions about medical history.
A thorough medical health tree covers at least three generations, including grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins. Basic details for each family member should include sex, age, date of birth, ethnicity and ancestor’s country of origin. Sample questions are:
- Do you have any chronic health conditions?
- Have you ever had a serious illness such as cancer or stroke?
- Has anyone in the family had chronic health conditions?
- At what age did your parents or grandparents die? What were their causes of death?
Give the compiled medical information only to your doctors and to other family members so they can share the history notes with their own medical providers. Keep the medical family tree handy so it can be easily updated and accessed for generations to come.
How can you work with your extended family to gather an accurate medical health history?