Family Health History

Celebrate this Thanksgiving by Discussing your Family’s Health History

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with family and discuss health issues that affect family members. In this country, we know that family health history is an important part of routine medical care. It’s so important, the U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving as National Family History Day since 2004. By learning and documenting your own family health history, you are taking the first step in helping to ensure a longer, healthier future together.

Why is Family Health History Important?

Beside the basic traits of hair and eye color that “run in” a family, other traits can be passed down from a parent to a child. Some common conditions that can also be inherited include:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke
  • Some cancers

By knowing which conditions your parents and grandparents had, you can learn about the disease or condition and find out what you can do to prevent developing the same condition. Even though the genes you inherited cannot be changed, you can make lifestyle changes to help prevent developing the diseases that run in your family. Such changes include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking and routine medical care. There are certain key features that may increase your risk of disease. These risks include:

  • Certain combinations of diseases within a family
  • Diseases that occur at an earlier than expected age
  • Disease in more than one close relative
  • Disease that does not typically affect a specific gender (for example, breast cancer in a male)

How Do I Get My Family’s Health History?

Ask questions about your close relatives’ health, such as birth defects, childhood health problems, and the age and cause of death. Also ask if there common adult diseases (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis) that run in the family.

Who Should I Include when Gathering My Family Health History?

The health of your closest relatives, related to you by blood, influences your health the most. Therefore, include your:

  • Parents
  • Children
  • Grandparents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Aunts and uncles

When Should I Collect this Information?

Family gatherings (reunions, Thanksgiving and other holidays) are ideal opportunities to collect family health histories. Let your family members know you will share this information with everyone, so that the whole family can benefit.

How Can I Record this Information?

Surveys have shown only one third of all Americans have their family’s health history documented. Below are a couple of different options available to document a family history:

What Do I Do With this Information?

  • Share it with your primary care provider who will make health care recommendations
  • Share this information with your relatives
  • Keep it in a safe place for future reference

Please take a look at the websites below. These links offer educational opportunities for health care providers and the public in raising awareness of the importance and value of knowing one's family health history.

Share this information with your loved ones. Knowing your risks today can lead to a healthier tomorrow.

535 West Jefferson Street • Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977 • Fax 217-782-3987 • TTY 800-547-0466
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