Your Family Health TreeGo Back To Guides
Why, when there are so many other seemingly more important things to do, would anyone bother to create a family health history, or family health tree (pdf)? Because it just might save your life, that’s why! Numerous health-related conditions (such as colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and birth defects) run in families.
Seeking out your relatives and asking for their help in filling in the blanks in your family health tree could help you connect with them in a more meaningful way. But even more importantly, having complete and accurate information about what diseases and conditions run in your family—and sharing this information with your health care professional—could lead to:
- Earlier detection. If you know that certain conditions like breast or colon cancer run in your family, then you can be screened for them at an earlier age and monitored for them regularly.
- Preventive medical care. There may be medications and supplements your health care professional can prescribe for you and other family members that will prevent a condition from developing.
How to Start: What Information to Collect
Start by downloading our free Family Health Tree (pdf) form. Your goal should be to gather as much information as possible about first-and second-degree relatives, at minimum. First degree relatives include your parents and siblings. Second-degree relatives are aunts, uncles, grandparents and grandchildren. For each family member, record the following (where there isn’t space on the Family Health Tree, jot the information down on a separate piece of paper and attach it to your Family Health Tree):
- First and last names. This includes the married and maiden names for women, where appropriate.
- Date of birth and current age. Or, if deceased, date of birth and age at death.
- Medical conditions. Find out whether immediate and second-degree relatives have major or chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, etc. Also inquire about general patterns of ill health, like chronic back pain or migraines, and about allergies, both environmental and drug-related. Vision and hearing problems should also be noted.
- Cause of death. If deceased, note the cause of death.
Other things you might want to note:
- Significant lifestyle and environmental factors. Illnesses can be caused by a history of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use; a history of obesity; and exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals or asbestos. Where that information is available, it should be noted.
- Relationships. Note if brothers and sisters were adopted or if they have different parents, i.e., are half-siblings.
- Intermarriage. Be sure to make note if any relatives married a blood relative, such as cousins who married each other.
- Race and ethnicity. Race and ethnicity are important because some genetic diseases occur in specific ethnic groups; for instance, if relatives are of Northern European background, the risk of family members carrying the cystic fibrosis gene mutation is increased. The same is true for a number of other ethnic groups and genetic diseases.
- Twins. Be sure to note if twins are identical or fraternal.
- Birthing difficulties. Miscarriages or stillborn or neonatal deaths can also be significant in that some of these could be related to genetic factors.
Where family recollections and medical records run dry, consider other sources for information about your family’s health history, such as death certificates and obituaries; military records; old family bibles, letters and diaries and Social Security applications.
Remember, this is not a project that can be completed in a few days or even probably a few weeks. But the sooner you get started on it and share the results with your health care professional, the better off you’ll be. Not only will you feel more in control of your health, you’ll also know what health screenings you should be getting and when, as well as what other preventive measures to take.
© 2012. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.