Family members share more than just matching holiday sweaters; they also share genes, lifestyles and environments that may influence their health and risk of chronic disease. The holidays offer a great opportunity to discuss your family’s health history while everyone is gathered. Having a family member with a chronic disease or condition like cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease may increase your risk of developing that disease. Understanding your family history and discussing it with your primary care physician is an important step in understanding and even preventing disease in individuals and their close relatives.

A complete family history is important for all family members, even if they are not biologically related. Factors that influence risk for conditions and diseases include environment, behavior and lifestyle. Regardless of the blood relationship, family members often share social and environmental exposures that may influence health risks.

The Center for Disease Control recommends compiling a family health history and discussing it with your primary care physician or your child’s pediatrician. Here are some tips for compiling a useful family health history record:


  1. Talk to family members about health history and update the record from time to time.

  2. Record the names of your close relatives from both sides of the family for three generations (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews).

  3. Include all diseases and conditions with which the family member was diagnosed and the age at diagnosis.

  4. Include the age and cause of death of deceased family members.

  5. Include family and biological relationship.