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Why It’s Important to Know Your Family’s Medical History

Nurse practitioner records a patient's vitals during a routine appointment

Genes impact more than just eye color and height. They also play a big part in your health. The health of your family members and their medical conditions, past and present, could have a big impact on you, and it’s worth finding out as much as you can.

Reasons to know your family’s medical history

  • Figure out if you’re at risk for certain hereditary medical conditions. Dozens of diseases, illnesses and afflictions, some long-term or life threatening, have genetic components, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more.
  • Determine whether your children or other family members are at risk.
  • Get a diagnosis for an illness you didn’t know you have.
  • Choose appropriate genetic or other medical tests.
  • Figure out if you might benefit from preventive measures against specific conditions, including medications for certain disorders that can prevent their progression.
  • Create a plan for lifestyle changes to improve your overall health, such as taking steps to stave off obesity or addiction issues.

A family history of a certain illness does not necessarily mean it will be passed on to you. However, knowing your family’s complete medical history gives you and your doctor a truer picture of your health and plays a big role in preventing and diagnosing illness. Just consider it another tool in your arsenal to make good decisions about your health.

Start gathering your medical history by talking to relatives and use the Family Health Portrait Tool to save it.

Assembling your family’s medical information

Tell your doctor everything you do know about your background, including your race or ethnicity, to stay one step ahead of any potential conditions. Ask your family members about their medical histories, particularly any major issues they’ve faced, so that you can pass along accurate information to your physician.

If there’s adoption in your family, hunt down adoption records and see if they include any medical history. Even if it was a closed adoption, you might be able to contact the agency to see if there was any stray information you can piece together about biological parents or grandparents.

Order the no-cost Special Care Organizational Record if you have a child or adult family member with special needs.


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