A New Kind Of Family Tree

When going to the doctor, a family health history can provide a lot of information about personal health risks. What kind of information does the doctor need to assess health risks? First, people should understand what to include in a family health history.

center for family medicine Understanding Family Health History 3 Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor

Building a health history

If possible, people should know about the health conditions going back 3 generations. The immediate family is most crucial: parents, siblings, and grandparents. But knowing about aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces is important too. Conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are common items that go on family health histories. Be sure to also gather information about mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and any other factors that affect the person’s overall health. When bringing the family health history to the doctor, ask these 3 questions.

1. How does family health history affect my health risks?

Family health history is important. Still, just because a family member has a certain mental health condition doesn’t mean that the patient will also get that diagnosis. Family health histories help inform care. Ask the doctor to explain what the health history means about present and future health risks. The patient’s current health and personal health history also affect risk factors.

2. What can I do to lower my health risks?

Doctors can give personalized guidance for lowering health risks. For example, if a person has a high risk of heart disease, the doctor may advise specific measures to improve heart health. The patient may eat more whole grains, lower sodium intake, or start an exercise program. The family health history can serve as a roadmap for lowering health risks and preventing chronic disease.

3. When do I need a follow-up appointment?

When a person knows the health risks, following up with the doctor is easier. Know what signs and symptoms of certain health conditions to look for. Being informed and prepared can help give people peace of mind, especially if there are significant or severe health conditions in the family health history.

Gathering your family health history

Chances are anyone who has been in a doctor’s office has filled out at least a partial family health history. Submitting this paperwork on the spot can sometimes lead to incomplete answers. For best results, gather a family health history over time. Talk with family members and update the document regularly. Then, when the doctor’s appointment comes, patients will be armed with more robust, helpful information.