Family members share more than just matching holiday pajamas - they also share genes, lifestyles, and environments that may influence their health and risk of chronic diseases. Thankfully, the holidays are a great opportunity to discuss your family’s health history, as family members gather.

Keeping track of your family’s health history is easier than ever thanks to at-home DNA test kits. These kits have become popular in the last few years, especially as a gift around the holidays. At-home DNA kits are generally noninvasive and efficient. You receive your results quickly and can even access them online. These kits can:

  • Promote open, honest, and regular discussion around your genetic health history;
  • Potentially prevent future medical issues by educating you about conditions you are at risk of developing, allowing you to take preventative measures early;
  • Make you aware of any hereditary diseases that run in your family, such as Huntington’s disease or sickle cell anemia;
  • Alert you if you are a carrier for any disorders you might not know about, such as cystic fibrosis, which can inform future life decisions;
  • Tell you if you are predisposed to developing certain conditions, including diabetes, late-onset Alzheimer’s, or celiac disease, so you can make proactive lifestyle changes; and
  • Encourage you to be more in-touch with your body and personal health by signifying traits you may be more likely to have, such as maintaining a heavier weight.

While DNA test kits offer many helpful health benefits, it is important to note that results from at-home tests are not as strictly regulated as those performed in medical offices. Additionally, not all at-home DNA kits give the same information and level of detail, so your findings might vary from what is listed here. Therefore, you should always consult your primary care physician to discuss your results in more detail.

If you prefer the old-fashioned way, the Center for Disease Control recommends compiling a comprehensive family health history to discuss with primary care physicians or pediatricians. If you aren’t sure how to go about recording your family’s health history, use the following tips to get started:

  1. Record the names of your close relatives from both sides of the family for three generations (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews).
  2. Include all diseases and conditions with which the family member was diagnosed and the age at diagnosis.
  3. Include the age and cause of death of deceased family members.
  4. Include family and biological relationship.
  5. Talk to family members about health history and updating your record from time to time as needed.

Ask around at this year’s family gathering about relatives’ health histories. Try to find out if any of your family members had or have chronic diseases or conditions such as cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, as it may increase your risk of developing those conditions. It is also important to keep in mind that a complete family history includes all family members, even those who are not biologically related. In addition to someone’s genealogy, his or her environment, behavior, and lifestyle can influence the risk for conditions and diseases. And, regardless of the relationship, family members often share social and environmental exposures that may influence health risks.

Talking to your family about their health history, followed by a discussion with your primary care physician, is an important step in understanding your own health and preventing future diseases. This year, help your family stay happy and healthy by leading the conversation around your shared health history.

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