Your Family Health History Has Lifesaving Information

geneticcounsel

Many websites are devoted to helping people search out their ancestors. Researching and sharing these stories weave family members together in a rich tapestry of shared experiences, culture and heritage.

Family history information can also be a powerful tool for promoting health and preventing disease. In fact, for many people, knowing their family health history can be lifesaving.

Why is your family health history important?

Those physical characteristics we sometimes refer to as “family traits” are passed from generation to generation through genetic information carried in our genes. Just as genes determine eye and hair color, your genetic makeup also contributes to your general health. 
 
A family health history is simply an organized record of medical conditions and health-related lifestyle choices present in your family. By collecting your family health history, it’s possible to understand your risk for certain health problems and reveal hereditary risk factors, as well as take steps to lower that risk through appropriate lifestyle choices and medical care. 

What should a family health history include?

Collecting information on three or more generations of relatives is ideal. Start by writing down your own health information. Then include information on your immediate family (children, siblings, and parents). From there, branch out to extended family members.  

For each individual, write down as many of the following items as possible: 

  • Birthdate
  • Country of ancestry (some health conditions are more common within ethnic groups) 
  • Individual medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, vision and hearing loss,       mental illness, birth defects, learning disabilities, etc. (including age when diagnosed) 
  • Lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise, and smoking 
  • Date and cause of death 

Often you can obtain information directly from your parents or other family members about deceased relatives. When collecting information, it’s best to confirm the information using public records such as death certificates. In some instances, your family members may be willing to share certain lab test results or medical records with you. 

How do I organize my family health information? 

Family health history can be a list of maternal and paternal relatives with medical information written next to each name. Many people also find it useful to record family health information on a family history chart known as a family tree or pedigree. You can create family history charts online or download a template. 

What will my doctor do with the information?

The information contained in your family health history can assist your doctor in identifying conditions for which you may have an increased risk. Once identified, your doctor can recommend targeted medical tests such as genetic testing through a genetic counselor. Participating in your healthcare this way can increase the chance of finding and treating potential medical conditions early. 

What is genetic counseling?

Genetic counselors are allied health professionals specifically trained to analyze family histories and the role genes play in health and disease.  

During a genetic counseling appointment, the genetic counselor can identify potential hereditary diseases in a family and help individual family members understand their risk of being affected. They can also explain options for genetic testing, health management, disease prevention, and where to locate additional information such as community support resources.  

For more information on genetic counseling in your area, call:

  • Dixie Regional Medical Center: 801-507-3633
  • Intermountain Medical Center: 801-507-3900, option 3
  • Logan Regional Medical Center: 435-716-6400
  • McKay-Dee Hospital: 801-387-7484
  • Utah Valley Hospital: 801-357-7575