Family health history can help your child’s doctor make a diagnosis if your child shows signs of a disorder. It can reveal whether your child has an increased risk for a disease; if so, the doctor might suggest screening tests. Many genetic disorders first become obvious in childhood, and knowing about a family health history of a genetic condition can help find and treat the condition early.
Most people do not think that chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes affect children, but children with a strong family health history of these diseases can show signs in childhood. However, having a family health history of a disease does not mean that your child will get that disease. Children with a family health history of chronic diseases can benefit from developing good lifestyle habits, such as exercising and eating healthy, right away. These habits can benefit the entire family and might help prevent or delay these conditions.
Ways to Collect Your Child’s Family Health History
- Record the names of your child’s close relatives from both sides of the family: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Include conditions each relative has or had and at what age the conditions were first diagnosed. For relatives who are deceased, include the cause of death and the age at death.
- Use the US Surgeon General’s online tool for collecting family health histories, called “My Family Health Portrait.”
- Discuss family health history concerns with your child’s doctor. Gather the information before seeing the doctor, using “My Family Health Portrait.” Fill out family health history forms carefully. Families considering having another child should share family health history information with the mother’s doctor.
- Update your child’s family health history information regularly and share new information with your child’s doctor. Remember that relatives can be newly diagnosed with conditions between doctor’s visits.
- The best way to learn about your family health history is to ask questions. Talk at family gatherings and record your family’s health information—it could make a difference in your child’s life.
Send a personalized e-card to family and friends encouraging them to collect their family health history.