Why You Need to Know Your Family Health History

Learn how understanding genetic predisposition can help you live a healthier, longer life.

Genetics are commonly mentioned when discussing hair and eye color, face shape, personality traits, and other resemblances that connect you with parents, siblings, and your children. The same genetics that are responsible for your appearance and personality build your health similarities, as well.

Diving into your family’s genetics and completing a health history family tree can help you and your family live a healthy, long life. In addition, providing new physicians and specialists with a comprehensive family history is an important way to tailor and improve your care.

Key Facts About Family Health History

Everyone has genetic predispositions ─ an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease due to inherited genetic variations. Knowing your family health history can help your care team identify and prevent potential health complications before they arise.

Heredity is the process of passing genetic traits from one generation to the next. Family health history is more than genetics, however; environments, behaviors, and habits can contribute to health predispositions.

Knowledge can improve your healthcare.

When your physician understands your family health history, they are better able to help prevent and treat illness and disease. Identifying high-risk diseases, recognizing early warning signs, and suggesting life changes is easier for your physician when he or she is well-informed about your family’s history.

Common genetically linked conditions.

Many well-known conditions ─ including heart disease, stroke, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer disease, and some cancers ─ are linked to family history. While analyzing your family health history tree, look for the following:

  • Conditions present in two or more generations
  • Multiple first-degree relatives with same or related conditions
  • Relatives who developed conditions earlier than average
  • Increased frequency of the same or related disease(s) on one side of the family
  • Family members being diagnosed with the same or similar condition at similar ages

In general, the more information you know, the better. Ask your primary physician to provide you with a family history form or complete the family history form from the American Medical Association to start.

Gathering the Information

Finding the information you need for a thorough family health history takes a lot of research. Start with your closest blood-related family — grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews. Keep the conversation light-hearted, but be open about your intentions. The more casual the conversation, the more memories will come to light.

When gathering information, address the following topics:

  • Major medical issues. This includes cancers, heart disease, and any conditions that are not solely caused by external factors. Record illnesses and surgeries as well.
  • Minor health issues. Ask about allergies, birth defects, and miscarriages.
  • Environment and behaviors. Your environment can influence what predispositions arise. Identify any lifestyle factors that you share with your family members such as where you live or grew up, habits such as smoking and drinking, and behaviors.
  • Causes of death. Learn the primary cause of death for any blood family members who’ve passed away. Identify any trends you notice on certain sides of the family.
  • Age of onset. It’s important to know what health issues your family members have, as well as when they began experiencing symptoms.
  • Ethnicity. Take note of your family’s ethnic make-up. Your ethnicity might carry certain risk factors and could help your physician identify health predispositions.


Family Health History: The Basics. (2017, July 18). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory/famhist_basics.htm

Stephens, C. Family Health History: Why It’s Important and What You Should Know. (2016, November 21). Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/family-health-history-day#overview1