Collecting and recording your family health history is an important piece of preventative health care that is often overlooked. It is common for people to neglect investigating the history of members in their families, and consequently give inaccurate or incomplete information to their doctors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends tracking three generations of biological relatives, the age at diagnosis of any chronic condition, and the age and cause of death of deceased family members in your health history.
A thorough history can help your doctor provide better care that is tailored to your individual needs, identify risk of diseases that run in the family, and it can highlight early warning signs, which allow doctors to recommend actions to prevent risk of disease or illness.
According to the the CDC, “The familial risk often shows a dose-response effect. That is, the more close relatives a person has with a particular disease and the earlier their ages of diagnosis, the greater that person’s risk of also developing the same disease.”
Not only does collecting this data help you receive better informed care, but it has a positive impact on human genome research–resulting in advancements for estimating risk-factors of genetic diseases. It is difficult to accurately predict whether a person will inherit a disease because genetic patterns are complex and vary by family. For this reason, risk can only be estimated, not precisely calculated. However, genetic research has enabled scientists to categorize individuals within high, medium, or low risk groups by comparing their data to a very large database of other families with the same disease and other shared characteristics.
Scientists have also emphasized that genes are not the only components to consider. The University of Utah Genetic Science Center states that, “Family histories capture more than just genetic risk factors. They also capture cultural, social, and environmental risk factors shared by a family that can contribute to disease.”
Incorporating environmental and lifestyle factors into the estimation model helps them to more fully understand which genetic factors contribute to risk for disease when controlling for other variables. Doing so can even point to common external factors that are associated with specific diseases and confirm whether those factors may increase risk.
The collection of this information has become increasingly important, compelling the Surgeon General to launch a Family Health History initiative and corresponding online tool that allows you to keep track of this data and share it easily, called My Family Health Portrait.
This tool not only allows you to record and store family history data, but it allows family members to collaborate on data input, and automatically re-indexes the information so that all relationships become tailored to each individual user. The data collected is also compatible with Electronic Health Records (EHRs) so it can easily be shared with healthcare facilities that use the electronic system.