• Research

    Grandma, gravy and genes: this Thanksgiving, learn your family’s health history

With Covid-19 cases rising, many families are changing their Thanksgiving Day plans to virtual gatherings to share memories, milestones and laughter. Researchers within Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine are also urging people to use part of this time to discuss their family’s health history...it could save a life.

Thanksgiving Day marks Family Health History Day, an annual national public health campaign to encourage people to better understand what health characteristics run in their families. Does your family have a history of heart problems or diabetes? Does colon or breast cancer run in the family? Is high blood pressure an issue?

The answers to questions like these can help family members understand, and potentially predict and prevent future health issues. 

Human health is influenced by a combination of factors, including genetics, environment and family history. While a family’s health history and inherited genes cannot be changed, there are ways to help prevent the development of some hereditary diseases, including undergoing early screening for the disease, changing unhealthy behaviors and receiving genetic testing.

Who to include when gathering your family health history?

The health of your closest relatives, related to you by blood, influences your health the most. Therefore, include your:

  • Parents
  • Children
  • Grandparents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Aunts and uncles

Questions to ask your family

Ask questions about your close relatives’ health, such as what major medical conditions they had and what age they started, cause and age of death, birth defects, childhood health problems.

What to do with the information

  • Share it with your primary care provider who will make health care recommendations
  • Share this information with your relatives
  • Keep it in a safe place for future reference
  • Update the information every year at Thanksgiving

How to get started

My Family Health Portrait is a free and easy to use online tool to help you collect your family health history information. You can share your information with your family members and doctor.

Genetic Counseling at Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic genetic counseling team in the Department of Clinical Genomics helps empower patients and their families by providing information and support to help them understand their family history. The team also works closely with physicians and researchers in Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine to help patients review predictive testing options that may allow early identification of genetic risks.

The team of counselors also monitor guidelines for genetic testing, notifying physicians when a new test is available that may improve diagnosis or help identify targeted treatments for a specific disease.

For more information on genetic testing, visit Mayo Clinic’s Department of Clinic Genomics.

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