Your family health history is an essential aspect of your overall wellness. Your doctor may be able to use it as a key for deciphering medical issues that you may be experiencing. The history will also give your doctor a better idea of your predisposition, or risk for certain diseases, thereby allowing you to take preventative measures if necessary. Here is how to find out more about your family health history, as well as what information you should search for.
What is Your Family Health History?
Your family health history is similar to a family tree, but it goes into greater detail about the health of family members. An informative family health history should go back 3 or 4 generations. It should include your immediate family, such as your parents, grandparents and siblings. You should also gather information about your aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts, great-uncles, first cousins and great-grandparents.
Information to Look For
When researching your family health history, look for health conditions that have been proven to run in families, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and cancer. Note the age at which the family member was diagnosed with the ailment. Also write down any treatments or surgeries that were used for the condition. It’s okay if some of the information is missing. Don’t try to fill empty blanks with guesses. That could cause your doctor to misinterpret some of your family’s medical history.
There are several places to find your family health history. The first, and usually most effective method is a personal interview. Talk to people in your family. Some of them may be unwilling at first to open up about their medical history, so be up front with them about why you are asking such personal questions. Assure them that the information that you are collecting will be kept private.
Old family letters may describe ailments that may be useful in your search for your family health history. Pictures can tell you if family members had certain health concerns, such as obesity. Baby books, obituaries and family bibles can also have medical information.
Death certificates, which are available in county offices, may be helpful. Birth certificates and marriage licenses are also available if you need help finding the names of family members from several generations back. Cemeteries, churches and funeral homes may have funeral records that can assist you in your search.
Insurance policies, especially life insurance policies, often have health conditions listed in them. These records can be very beneficial in your search if the family member is not available for a personal interview. Doctor’s bills, prescription information, and hospital release records can be helpful, but they are often more difficult to find.
In 2004, Thanksgiving Day also became National Family History Day. The Surgeon General has encouraged families to use this time of gathering to talk to each other about family history.