Family Health History: Why Track It For Future Generations?

Family Health History: Why Track It?

Grandkids and grandparents looking at photos and discuss health history.

You may quickly rush through those doctor forms checking boxes for the health and medical issues your relatives have. But it’s worth taking time to slow down and really think about your family health history.

Family history is one of the most important tools a genetic counselor uses to identify genetic risk. Patterns of specific health issues in an individual’s family history are useful to determine the risk of disease and appropriate genetic testing and health screening options.

Advantages of keeping a family health history

Delving into family conversations about health history can uncover information you may not have previously had. Sharing that history with your healthcare providers will allow you to have more informed discussions about your own personal health risks and will result in a personalized health plan.

A family history of heart disease might mean earlier screenings for you. High cholesterol in one parent could signify to your doctor to keep an eye out for the same in you and your children. A family history of asthma or allergies could give insight to your pediatrician in caring for your baby who is having respiratory issues.

When to consider genetic counseling

There are many reasons to meet with a genetic counselor. Gathering your family health history information can help you and your healthcare providers understand if genetic counseling and possibly, genetic testing, might be helpful.

If you have a health condition in multiple members of your family such as cancer, a heart disorder, or other genetic condition, you might wonder if you or your children could have a higher chance of these conditions. In these cases, genetic counseling and testing may be helpful. Even if only one person in the family has a condition, but it is thought to be genetic, meeting with a genetic counselor can help you better understand your and your children’s risks.

Not everyone needs to meet with a genetic counselor. If you are unsure, talk with your doctor or learn more from the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

How your children will benefit

Your pediatrician can help you interpret your family history as it pertains to your kids. Certain information, like family history of breast cancer, might be something to document in the medical record for future reference. Other details, such as family history of overweight, could help your doctor have informed discussions with your children about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise.

Important tips to remember

  • If you haven’t already, you can start your family history at any time. It’s never too late to start pulling this information together.
  • It’s important to have family history from both sides of a family. Your kids will be best served if you can gather health information from their other parent’s family too.
  • You can start a family history if you’re adopted. Even if you have limited information, it is helpful for your healthcare providers to know that.
  • Your doctors should ask you regularly for changes in your family health history. If you have new information to share, tell them there has been a change. If your dad was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, that’s important information to add to your own medical records as well as those of your children.

Starting a family health history can be time intensive at first. But once it’s gathered, the information can be very useful. By taking the time now to document your family’s story, you’ll be creating a resource you can use in your own healthcare and a wonderful gift to future generations of your family.

Read Next: Part 2 – Family Health History: How to Begin Tracking

 

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Erin M. Miller, MS, LGC

About the Author: Erin M. Miller, MS, LGC

Erin Miller is a licensed genetic counselor with the Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute. She specializes in cardiovascular genetics. Her research interests include the impact of clinical genetic testing and cardiac screening recommendations on family members, and the penetrance of cardiovascular disease in families.

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