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What information should be included in a family medical history?

A family medical history should include medical problems that have a high likelihood of being passed down from generation to generation. This could include things like diabetes (whether the person was diagnosed as a child or an adult), whether someone has had a heart attack or stroke, or cancer. Medical conditions or events that parents or grandparents (and maybe siblings) have are probably more relevant than those that more distantly related people (such as cousins, great-aunts, and so on) have. If in doubt about a certain condition, include it, and your doctor can discuss it with you further.

Certain health problems tend to run in families. If your parents and grandparents suffered from heart disease, cancer or diabetes, you are at greater risk of developing the same condition. If rare diseases such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, or sickle cell anemia run in your family, you may need to be tested or checked more often than you would otherwise.

To help protect your health, make a list of relatives and note which ones have been affected by any major diseases. Record the age at which they were diagnosed and, if deceased, note that date as well. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) provides an online tool that makes it easy to gather this information and print it out. Visit familyhistory.hhs.gov to learn more.

If possible, your family medical history should include at least three generations. Compile information about your grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, cousins, children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. For each person, try to gather the following information:

  • Gender
  • Date of birth
  • Ethnicity
  • Diseases or other medical conditions
  • Age when disease was diagnosed
  • Diet, exercise habits, smoking habits, or history of weight problems
  • For deceased relatives, age at the time of death and cause of death

Ask about the occurrence of the following diseases and medical conditions often associated with genetic risk:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Mental illness
  • High blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Alcoholism or other substance abuse
  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Learning disabilities
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, or infertility

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.