It is estimated that between 40 and 50% of us are at risk of developing a disease or illness that runs in the family. Yet very few of us take the time or make the effort to compile a family health history. The value of knowing about diseases that run in the family should never be underestimated.
Reasons why a health history is important
- Many diseases run in families. These include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, some cancers, asthma, stroke, birth defects, mental illness and autoimmune disease.
- Families share not only genetics, but also lifestyles, environments and sometimes habits, which could work together or separately to affect the risk of family members developing certain health risks.
- If a member of your family has a chronic disease, you could be at a higher risk of developing that disease than someone who does not have that disease in their family.
- Knowing that you are at risk of developing a disease or illness means you can make better and informed decisions in possible lifestyle changes to reduce your risk, and for screening and prevention of diseases. This could significantly affect the outcome or lessen the severity, should you in fact develop that disease.
Information to include in your family health history
- You can compile your family health history in much the same way as a family tree, or you can find resources or pro forma family health histories online.
- Include both sides of your family; your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces.
- Record their current age, how you are related, sex and ethnic background.
- Record all medical conditions and the age at which it was diagnosed.
- Record the ages and causes of deceased family members.
- Record lifestyle factors that might affect development of disease, such as smoking, exercise habits and being under- or overweight.
Very important: share your family health history with your family doctor.