Genetics

The Importance of Family Health History

Research has shown that family history is a risk factor for many diseases. Tracing the health issues that have affected your relatives can tell us what conditions you may have a higher chance to develop in your lifetime.  For example, a person who has multiple family members with a condition like heart disease, diabetes or cancer is more likely to develop the condition than someone with no family history. There are multiple reasons this may be the case. People in the same family share genes, but often share environment and lifestyle factors too that contribute to the development of a condition.

What can I do?

Gather your family history! Reach out to relatives to collect information on their health and to learn about past generations.  Family gatherings are a fabulous opportunity to do this. Once this information is collected, it can be saved for the benefit of generations to come.

What type of information should I collect?

  • Medical conditions diagnosed in relatives
  • Causes of death
  • Age at diagnosis and age at death
  • Ancestry and ethnic background
  • Exposure history such as asbestos, and alcohol or tobacco use

How do we use family history in the Health Nucleus?

At your visit to the Health Nucleus, a clinician will ask you about your medical history and the history of your relatives, including first-degree relatives (children, parents and siblings), and second-degree relatives (grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles). A three-generation family tree will be drawn. The history will be used to understand your risks and family members’ risks for various health conditions.

Our team assesses whether there is a pattern of disease that suggests a genetic condition. Even if your genetic test results show no harmful gene variant, you may benefit from increased screening. Family members may be recommended to consider genetic testing.

Sources

The National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK115560/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Office of Public Health Genomics www.cdc.gov/genomics

Genetic Alliance www.geneticalliance.org/familyhealthhistory

U.S. Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative www.hhs.gov/familyhistory