• Cancer

    National Family History Day: Why Your Family Medical History is Important

multi generational African American family sitting on a couch

Do you know what health conditions run in your family? Take advantage of upcoming holiday gatherings to find out. Having access to this vital information may reveal the history of disease in your family and allow you to identify patterns that might be relevant to your own health. To encourage families to talk and write down their medical history, the U.S. Surgeon General's office has declared Thanksgiving National Family History Day — a time to discuss  and share information about family medical issues that may be common, such heart disease, cancer and diabetes — or less common, such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia.

"Knowing your family history can help your health care provider determine if you are at an increased risk for any conditions that may warrant additional testing or screening," says Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine genetic counselor supervisor Teresa Kruisselbrink.

Create Your Family Medical Treeillustration of family medical tree
Family history should be gathered for three or four generations on both sides. Include information about your children, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Helpful information to gather includes:

  • Major medical conditions and the age they started
  • Cause and age of death
  • Birth defects
  • Family’s ethnic background — some conditions can be more prevalent in certain ethnicities.

To help you get started, the U.S. Surgeon General's office has designed a free online tool called My Family Health Portrait.

"The tool allows you to collect the information and create a family pedigree that can be printed and shared with your family and health care provider. Remember to ask about any updates. Thanksgiving is a great time to do this," she adds. This information can help improve the health of your family for generations to come.