Because many health problems are rooted in your genes, it’s critical to know as much about your family’s cultural and medical history as possible in order for your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. A handy tool provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) enables you to create a family history, and keep it updated.
Family history is a particularly important risk factor in heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many types of cancer. Knowing which of your relatives have or had these (and other) disorders not only helps predict your risk of developing them, but helps practitioners determine which tests and screenings are appropriate for your care. Create a family history in advance of seeing your doctor, and make a copy for both yourself and the doctor’s files.
Family history, of course, is only one part of drawing a health profile; other factors that affect health include environment and personal habits, or lifestyle. Keep in mind that even if a close relative has a certain disease that raises your risk, it doesn’t mean that you will have it, too – it just means your chances are greater, and, more important, that knowing so is an opportunity to reduce the risk through proper screening and by changing your lifestyle, if necessary.
Learn more about the components of a good family health history from the NIH’s inheritance/family history handbook.