Nov 24th, 2022

National Family Health History Day takes place on Thanksgiving, a day when families gather together to eat, drink, and be grateful. This is no accident. Knowing about your family's health history and sharing it with your doctor is an invaluable part of protecting your health. A holiday spent around a table is the perfect time to discuss and record the health problems that run in your family.

Whether you know a lot about your family health history or only a little, take time to talk to your family about their health histories this holiday season.

Start with knowledge

Remember, you’re asking questions not just for your own health, but for the health of everyone in your family.

  • Talk to your family. You might think you know about all of the conditions in your parents or siblings, but you might find out more information if you ask. Don't forget to include close relatives from both sides of your family like grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
  • Ask questions. Find out if your relatives have or have had any chronic conditions. Your questions can include:
    • Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
    • Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke? What type of cancer?
    • How old were you when you were diagnosed? (even an approximate age is still useful)
    • What about ancestry? From what countries or regions did our ancestors come to the United States?
    • What were the causes and ages of death for relatives who have died?
  • Record the information and update it whenever you learn new family health history information.
  • Share the information with your doctor and other family members. Family health history information, even if incomplete, can help your doctor decide which screening tests you need and when those tests should start.

Though you might be more likely to get a disease if other people in your family have or had the disease, it's important to know that having a family health history of a disease doesn’t mean that you will definitely get it either. That is why knowing your family health history risk can help you—if you act on it.

Follow with action

Knowing about your family health history of a disease can motivate you to take steps to lower your chances of getting the disease.

If you have a family history of the following, here are actions to keep in mind:

  • Colorectal Cancer: if you have a close relative to had colorectal cancer before age 50, ask your doctor about screening at a younger age or more frequently.
  • Breast or Ovarian Cancer: If your close relative was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, or has/had ovarian cancer, or if any male relative has/had breast cancer, your doctor might refer you for cancer genetic counseling.
  • Heart Disease: If you have a family health history of heart disease, you can take steps to lower your risk heart disease.
  • Diabetes: If your close relative has type 2 diabetes, you and your other family members could have prediabetes. Ask your doctor whether you need earlier screening for diabetes.
  • Osteoporosis: A family health history of osteoporosis is one of a number of factors that make you more likely to develop osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about screening for osteoporosis earlier.
  • Hereditary Hemochromatosis: If you have a brother or sister with hemochromatosis, you may be more likely to develop the condition yourself. Talk to your doctor about testing and steps to lower the amount of iron in your body.

National Family History Day is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and has been recognized since 2004. Over this holiday, the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center invites you to please take the time to learn about your family's health so that you can take better care of yours, and they can take better care of theirs.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention