Knowing about any health issues that run in your family can help keep you healthier.
When you go to a new doctor, very often one of the first questions they ask you (maybe even on the paperwork before you get in to see the doctor) is about your family’s health history. You may be asked about any health issues that parents, siblings and even other extended family members have had. But have you ever wondered why your doctor needs to know that information?
Your family’s health history is important because it helps doctors identify medical conditions that you may be at a higher risk for. Since family members share the same genetic backgrounds, and often live in similar environments and may adopt similar lifestyle habits, knowing about conditions that affect other people in your family may raise a red flag about conditions that may affect you in the future.
Keep in mind that just because a family member has a particular health condition doesn’t mean that you will get it. And just because family members don’t have certain health conditions doesn’t mean that you won’t. But there’s usually a higher likelihood that you may develop some health issues if other members in your family have them.
So what can you do with this information?
Once you and your doctor know about health conditions that family members have, a decision can be made about how to manage your risk for those conditions. For example, if a family member has had a specific type of cancer, you may be advised to begin screenings at an earlier age than is generally recommended or to have screenings more often. If family members have had conditions that are affected by lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, smoking or alcohol use, you will likely be encouraged to modify your own habits as a way to reduce your risk of future health issues.
While you can’t change your genes, you can change your behaviors and can also be committed to getting recommended screening tests and seeing the doctor regularly to stay as healthy as possible and to help find any signs of disease at their earliest stages.
If you don’t know your family’s complete health history, it’s worth taking the time to find it out. This can be as easy as having a conversation with family members. If a person is reluctant to share their health information with you (some people are very private about their personal health issues), explain how you can use the information to help you stay healthier. It may be harder to get this information from extended family members, but it’s most important that you have the information from biological siblings, parents and grandparents.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 16, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD