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Genetics and your family health history

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​As researchers learn more about diseases and conditions that have a hereditary component, documenting your family health history is taking on new importance.

Start documenting your own health history. Download the Family Health History Work Shee​t​.

Knowing about diseases that run in your family, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression or cancer, could lead to prevention or an early diagnosis and treatment.

For instance, if you know there’s a history of breast cancer in your family, your doctor may recommend having mammograms or MRI scans earlier.

A family health history is the simplest, most cost-effective way to begin to understand your family’s health risks.

Marshfield Clinic Health System genetics experts offer the following tips for recording your family health history to share with members of your family and your family doctor or genetic counselor.

Document health information for three generations, if possible. Start with yourself, any children, your parents and immediate family (brothers and sisters).

Move on to relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. For a more comprehensive health history, you can add your spouse and three generations of his/her family.

Capture as much information as possible and be accurate about birth defects, developmental disabilities and diseases diagnosed in the family.

If possible, document at what age the conditions began and ages of death. Include common as well as more rare conditions that may exist in the family.

It is equally important to document relatives who lived to an old age and were healthy. It also is helpful to include the countries of origin for your ancestors.

Document exposure to environmental influences. For example, do any family members smoke, work with chemicals or live near industries that involve chemicals?

Keep the information filed in a safe place at home, on paper or on your computer, and update it every year as the family grows and changes. Also put a copy in a safe deposit box.

Pass along the information to others in your family and to your children.

A Family Health History work sheet available at Genetic Services should be filled out by you for each family member.

Share a copy of the completed form with your doctor or genetic counselor at your next medical visit. ​