The holiday season has come around once again, bringing the opportunity to celebrate and join our beloved family members and remember those who have gone before us. This precious time also presents the opportunity to discuss and share family health history (FHH).
In 2004, the Surgeon General of the United States declared Thanksgiving as National Family History Day. This declaration was made to help increase awareness of FHH as an important risk factor for common chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and to promote a reduction of the burden these diseases have on the national population. In 2012, the CDC found that 96% of Americans believed that knowing their family history was important. Despite these findings, only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and record their family's health history.
Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the Surgeon General has created an internet-based application called My Family Health Portrait to help make it fun and easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family's health. We have listed important things to consider while recording your Family Health History below.
While recording your Family Health History make sure you:
- Collect accurate health information from as many relatives as possible, preferably from those that are within at least three generations of you (i.e., grandparents, parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, and 1st cousins).
- Include major medical conditions or diagnoses such as cancer, any birth defects, heart disease, or intellectual and developmental disabilities. FHH should also include the year or age when the relative was diagnosed with the condition.
- For those relatives who have passed away, it should be noted when or at what age (or age range) the relative died and the cause of death (e.g., disease, complications of disease, or due to accident). If you're unsure of the cause and age of death, try to obtain a death certificate, which can assist you greatly.
- Knowing your family's pregnancy history (such as miscarriages, stillbirths, pregnancy /or birth complications, birth defects, and toxic exposures during pregnancy) from women or couples is also needed to correctly assess the possibility of any potential risks for future pregnancies in the family.
- Ethnic backgrounds for both sides of the family are also important as some genetic disorders may be more common in certain ethnic groups than in others.
Health professionals like family physicians and genetic counselors benefit from this information when performing the most appropriate risk assessments for you and your relatives. Talking about these things may initially cause uncomfortable feelings for some members of your family, but this discussion has the potential to help you and your relatives by leading to disease prevention and appropriate managements for certain medical conditions.
For more information on how to collect your Family Health History, visit these informative websites:
Centers for Disease Control (CDC): http://www.cdc.gov/Features/FamilyHistory/
National Institutes of Health- Senior Health: http://nihseniorhealth.gov/creatingafamilyhealthhistory/howtocreateafamilyhealthhistory/01.html
The American Medical Association: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-science/genetics-molecular-medicine/family-history.page
For information on the various genetic testing options we offer to help you compile your Family Health History, please visit our website.
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays from our family to yours!