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What is family history?

Your family health history is a record of medical information about you and your close relatives. A complete family history includes at least three generations of a family, grandparents, parents and children. Your family history may include information about your siblings, blood-related aunts and uncles, and cousins as well as your parents and grandparents.

Having medical information about your close relatives can help to predict your risk for certain conditions including heart disease, stroke and cancer as well as some less common conditions such as cystic fibrosis. That’s because these diseases and others run in families. Your risk for some conditions may be raised because you inherit certain genes. Your genetic makeup is a risk factor that you cannot change.

However, families also share other potential risk factors that you might be able to control, including your lifestyle habits, your environment, and your diet. If you know that certain conditions run in your family, you may be able to take steps to reduce your risk and/or have screenings to identify a problem if it does occur.

For example, if your mother and her two sisters all had breast cancer, you may be at increased risk of the disease yourself. Having mammograms and breast exams, and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits may help to reduce your risk for the disease. If your father and older brother have high blood pressure, you might be at increased risk for the problem, too. Minimizing your salt intake, exercising regularly, and monitoring your blood pressure frequently and having regular check-ups with your doctor may help to reduce your risk for high blood pressure.

It is important to know as much about your own family health history as possible and to share that information with your doctor. Talk to your relatives, and if you need more information, see if you can collect old medical documents, death certificates or obituaries to find out more about the medical conditions that may run in your family.

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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.