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Your family medical history, sometimes
called a medical family tree, is a record
of illnesses and medical conditions
affecting your family members. Here’s
why a family medical history comes
in handy - and how to create a family
medical history of your own.
How is a family medical
history used?
You inherit half of your genetic profile
from each parent. Along with the
genetic information that determines
your appearance, you also inherit genes
that might cause or increase your risk
of certain medical conditions. A family
medical history can reveal the history
of disease in your family and allow
you to identify patterns that might be
relevant to your own health.
Your doctor might use your
family medical history to:
• Assess your risk of certain diseases
• Recommend treatments or changes
in diet or other lifestyle habits to
reduce the risk of disease
• Determine which diagnostic tests to
• Determine the type and frequency of
screening tests
• Determine whether you or family
members should get a specific
genetic test
• Identify a condition that might not
otherwise be considered
• Identify other family members who
are at risk of developing a certain
• Assess your risk of passing
conditions on to your children
A family medical history can’t predict
your future health. It only provides
information about risk. Other factors
- such as your diet, weight, exercise
routine and exposure to environmental
factors - also affect your risk of
developing certain diseases.
What’s the best way to gather
family medical information?
Your family might want to work
together to develop a family medical
history. Consider kicking off the
project at a family gathering, such as
a holiday or reunion. Keep in mind,
however, that some loved ones might
be uncomfortable disclosing personal
medical information - perhaps due
to guilt, shame or a reluctance to face
painful memories.
If you encounter reluctance, consider
these strategies:
Share your purpose.
that you’re creating a record to help
you determine whether you and your
relatives have a family history of
certain diseases or health conditions.
Offer to make the medical history
available to other family members so
that they can share the information
with their doctors.
Provide several ways to
answer questions.
Some people
might be more willing to share
health information in a face-to-face
conversation. Others might prefer
answering your questions by phone,
mail or email.
Word questions carefully.
your questions short and to the point.
Be a good listener.
As your
relatives talk about their health
problems, listen without judgment or
Respect privacy.
As you collect
information about your relatives,
respect their right to confidentiality.
July/Aug 2014