Creating a Family Health History
What is a family health history?

A family health history is a record of health information, such as illnesses and conditions, present in your family. Usually, your doctor will want to know of any health concerns in your immediate family (birth mother, birth father, full and half siblings) and extended family (grandparents, aunts and uncles), but you should note any condition or illness of any family member if you think it could be helpful for your doctor to get a well-rounded picture of your health.

How do I create mine?

The Surgeon General's "My Family Health Portrait" is an online tool that makes it easy for you to record your family health history. The tool compiles your information and makes a family tree that you can download. The site is private and does not keep your information. Share your health portrait with family members or send the family tree to your health care practitioner before your next appointment so you can be sure your history is as complete and accurate as possible.

Why is it important?

Creating a family health history can help you and your health care provider identify, assess and even reduce your risk of developing conditions that run in your family. Ultimately, writing down your family health history can help your health care practitioner provide better care for you.

But I don’t have much information…

Not many people have detailed and precise information about their family members and their health histories. But any information on the following can be helpful:

  • Major medical issues: Find out about major medical issues any of your close relatives have been diagnosed with.
  • Causes of death: Find out the cause of death for any family members who’ve passed away.
  • Age of onset: Learn when each family member was diagnosed with each condition.
  • Ethnic background: Different ethnicities have varying levels of risk for certain conditions.
  • Environment: Families share common genes, but they also share common environments, habits and behaviors.

Talk to a knowledgeable relative to get answers. Here are some questions you can use to spark conversation:

  1. How old was my relative when they died, and what was the cause of death?
  2. Are there health problems that run in the family?
  3. Is there a history of miscarriages or birth defects in my family?
  4. What allergies do people in my family have?
What should I do with my health portrait?

Once you have completed your history, it is important to talk about it with your health care provider. Your doctor can help you interpret what it means for your current lifestyle, suggest prevention tips, and decide on screening or testing options for conditions you may be more at risk for developing.

The genes you’re born with can’t be changed, but knowing your family history can put you a step ahead of them. With the information from your health history, you may decide to make a lifestyle change – such as changing how you eat. These lifestyle changes may reduce your chances for developing conditions seen in your family history.

Be sure to share yours with family, too!

If you share your family health history with a relative, they can use your information as a starting point to create their own. Different family members may know different health information in your family history, so sharing information can help create a more complete picture. Remember: your health history helps your doctor provide provide better care, make more informed decisions and keep you healthy.