…and Why It’s Important
I f you have an upcoming visit scheduled with your primary care doctor, or you’re planning to see a new internist for the first time, there’s something you need to bring along. No, it’s not your insurance card or photo ID (though bringing them to your visit is always a good idea). We’re talking about your family health history. While creating a family health history may sound intimidating, it’s really not that difficult, and there are some very good reasons to do so.
What is a Family Health History?
Simply put, your family health history is a summary of information about diseases and medical conditions that have occurred in your family. It’s important to know your family health history because you may be more likely to develop certain illnesses if they have occurred in other family members. To learn more about family health history and specific chronic illnesses, see this article by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Knowing about illnesses in your family is the first step in helping to prevent and manage them for yourself.
How to Create Your Health History
Creating a family health history is fairly straightforward. Start by making notes of the information you know about yourself. What illnesses or medical conditions do you have? How old were you when they developed? Then move on to other family members, including your children, parents, siblings (including half brothers and sisters), grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Be sure to ask about chronic health conditions (e.g., cancer, heart disease, and diabetes), medical conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and conditions like stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
A Helpful Family Health History Tool
If you’re not sure how to begin creating your family health history or you need a way to organize it, you may find a tool like “My Family Health Portrait” to be useful. This free online tool, provided by the U.S. Surgeon General, makes it easy to create a basic family health history in about twenty minutes. You can also share the information you enter with your family members, so they can add to it. After you’ve gathered and entered all of your information, the tool allows you to create and print a family tree or table summarizing your family health history. This makes it very easy to share the information you’ve gathered with your healthcare provider at your next visit.
Family Health History and Your Doctor
After you’ve gathered your family health information, be sure to share it with your doctor. Doing so can help guide her/his decisions about what screenings and treatments to recommend. It can also help guide discussion about what lifestyle, diet, and exercise modifications may help prevent the onset of certain illnesses. Here at Rudoy Medical, our primary care physicians routinely use family health histories when evaluating patients, especially those new to our practice.
Take the Next Step
Now that you understand what a family health history is, how to create one, and how it can be used, it’s time to get to work! Talk to your family (the holidays are a great time to do so if you’ll be together with them), gather your information, and share it with your primary care doctor at your next visit. If you don’t have a primary care physician or haven’t seen one in some time, book an appointment today.
From all of us at Rudoy Medical, Happy Holidays, and cheers to your good health!