Family Health History

By: Leah Hollenberger

Thanksgiving Day, November 22, is also Family Health History Day. As you gather with family this holiday, why not spend a few minutes with your loved ones exchanging medical histories?

There are several diseases that commonly run in families, including diabetes, heart attack, stroke, cancer osteoporosis, and sickle cell anemia.

Not many of us have detailed and precise information about other family members’ health histories. But any information can be helpful. Creating a Family Health History, and sharing it with your doctor and other healthcare practitioners, will help your provider recommend actions for reducing your personal risk of disease or help in looking for early warning signs of disease.

Reaching out to other family members to share your family health history, can help develop a more inclusive, larger family health history. And in doing so, talking about your family health history can help each of you stay healthy.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an online tool,  “My Family Health Portrait,” that makes it easy to capture and save your family medical history. You can share the document with other family members and easily update it. The tool is available online at https://phgkb.cdc.gov/FHH/html/index.html.

Pen and paper works just fine as well. The March of Dimes also has downloadable PDF health history form you can use at marchofdimes.org/family-health-history-form.pdf.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a form too, at www.hhs.gov/programs/prevention-and-wellness/family-health-history/family-health-portrait-tool/printable/index.html.

However you decide to record your family health history, it should include:

  • Health history of your parents, your brothers, and sisters, and your children; next in importance are grandparents, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and any half-brothers or half-sisters. Finally, it is helpful to include great aunts, great uncles, and cousins.
  • Age for all relatives, including age at time of death for the deceased and what caused their death.
  • Ethnicity/Ancestory, as some genetic diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups.
  • Presence of chronic diseases.

The HHS suggests these questions to help get the conversation going:

  • Do you have any chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes?
  • Have you had any other serious illnesses, such as cancer or stroke?
  • How old were you when you developed these illnesses?
  • Have you or your partner had any difficulties with pregnancies, such as miscarriages?
  • What medications are you currently taking?
  • Do you have, or have you had, any learning or developmental disabilities?

You should be prepared to ask some follow up questions. For example, if an uncle tells you he has heart disease you will want to ask:

  • How old were you when you developed the disease?
  • Did you have a heart attack?
  • Have you had any procedures done related to your heart? If so, what and when?
  • Do you have other medical problems, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure?
  • What medications are you taking to help with any of the above?

Please realize that this conversation could be difficult for some members of your family. Not everyone may want to share their personal health information or it could bring up some difficult emotions. Being respectful and sensitive to their feelings is important. It may help to share in advance why you are asking these questions and what you plan to do with the information.

So this Thanksgiving, in addition to asking for the recipe for that delicious side dish, ask them to also share their health history and anything they know about other family members’ past health.

Wishing you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.


Leah Hollenberger is the Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Relations for Copley Hospital. A former award-winning TV and Radio producer, she is the mother of two and lives in Morrisville. Her free time is spent volunteering, cooking, playing outdoors, and producing textile arts. Leah writes about community events, preventive care, and assorted ideas to help one make healthy choices.

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Live Well Lamoille
Live Well Lamoille

The Live Well Lamoille blog is a collaborative community effort. We hope you find this blog to be a valuable resource and use it to share information and encourage one another to make healthy choices.

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