Why Does Family Health History Matter?


Your family health history is a record of the health conditions that have affected your blood relatives (parents, grandparents, siblings, children).

This can include diseases, disorders, and other conditions that may have been passed down in your family.

It might also include information about your relatives’ lifestyle choices and exposure to shared environmental factors.

Family health history is essential because it can give you insight into your risk of developing certain health conditions. It can also help your doctor provide you with better care and advice based on your specific family history.

What Information to Collect

Whether your healthcare provider gives you a form to fill out, or if you’re collecting this information on your own, you’ll want to gather as much detail as possible.

This includes any incidence of:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Birth defects (cleft lip, heart defects, spina bifida)
  • Blindness/vision loss
  • Cancer (breast, ovarian, colon, prostate)
  • Current and past medications
  • Deafness/hearing loss at a young age
  • Developmental delay/learning disorders
  • Diabetes/sugar disease
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • History of surgeries
  • Immunizations
  • Mental health disorders (depression, schizophrenia)
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy (number of children, miscarriages, complications)
  • Stroke
  • Substance abuse (alcohol, drugs)

Your doctor may also want to know:

  • age of onset of symptoms
  • ethnicity
  • if deceased, cause of death
  • lifestyle factors (exercise, habits, diet, occupation)

You might not be able to gather information about every disease or health condition in your family, but the more you can collect, the better.

How to Collect the Information

Sharing health information can be a difficult subject for some people. You might need to be patient and sensitive when asking your relatives about their health. 

While privacy is important, remember that this information could help you and your loved ones stay healthier in the future.

Some people prefer a warm conversation full of mutual sharing, reminiscing, storytelling, and emotions. Others might prefer a more clinical approach, straightforwardly gathering information or filling out a form. Consider your relationship with each person and how they might respond best to your questions.

You or your doctor can sometimes get information directly from medical records, death certificates, or other official documents. 

Keep the information safe, organized, and secure. You might want to create a family health tree or use a computer program or app to help you keep track of the information.

If possible, have conversations on multiple occasions with different relatives. This will help you to gather a complete picture of your family health history and ensure that nothing important is forgotten or overlooked.

Awareness Without Fatalism

Your family health history is just one part of your overall risk for developing a disease or condition. Many other factors also play a role.

This information should not cause you undue worry or anxiety. Instead, it should help you to make more informed decisions about your health and work with your healthcare provider to create a personalized plan for preventive care.

If you have concerns about developing a disease, talk to your doctor. They can help you understand your risk and what you can do to reduce it.