It’s all relative: Why is learning your family’s health history important?

Your family health history is a record of health conditions and treatments that you, your partner and each of your families have experienced. This information can help you find out if there are common medical issues in your families that may affect you or your children. Knowing your health histories before your baby is born can help your health care provider decide on care and treatments you may need during pregnancy that can improve the health of your baby. For some families, genetic counseling may be a part of their care during pregnancy. Genetic counseling and other services are available at Lovelace Birthing Centers and the Maternal Fetal Medicine Clinic at Lovelace Women’s Hospital.

Family medical histories may provide clues to the future of your health and may be used to predict the health of future generations. Knowing your family medical history can help you better understand why you may be affected by health problems more easily than others, which helps you take control of your everyday health and well-being. This history should be shared with family members and provided to younger relatives. When there are diseases or conditions that tend to be common for your family, this information can support lifestyle choices and medical treatments to improve the health outcomes of all involved.

You can use a form, like the March of Dimes Family Health History Form, to help you gather this information. Take your time to provide accurate information. Don’t guess if you don’t know the information. Consider taking this form with you to family events over the holidays so that your relatives can help fill in the blanks. Share your findings with your siblings, cousins and other family members who may want to know their health risks. Try to go back at least three generations, but you can go further back if the information is available.

Not everyone wants to talk about health or history and may feel that this information is private. Don’t push, and consider having a private conversation with those who are hesitant.  Let them know why this information is important to you, but respect their decision if they choose not to share this information. If some of your relatives have passed away, ask other relatives about health issues, or obtain death certificates to find cause of death and related medical conditions.

Adoptees may not know much, if anything, about their family medical history. Just start collecting your own medical information and add to it as you can about your birth family when or if this information becomes available.

More information:

·                American Society of Human Genetics and Genetic Alliance Know your family health history

·                Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Family health history

·                Genetic Alliance Does it run in the family?

·                Genetic Alliance Genes in Life

·                Show Your Love Preconception Health

·                U.S. Surgeon General's Office My family health portrait


Submitted by: Kym Halliday Clear RN, BSN / Manager Outpatient Programs, Lovelace Women’s Hospital.

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