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Record a Family Medical History

Share important medical information to keep your kids healthy.

Take a family health history and improve your child’s medical future.

When families gather, it’s almost a sport to identify which child inherited Aunt Lauren’s blue eyes or Grandpa Burt’s double dimples. But more gets bequeathed through bloodlines than mere physical traits. It’s entirely possible that the cooed-over dimpled, blue-eyed child also shares Uncle Bob’s tendency toward high blood pressure or Great-Grandma Helen’s genes for type 1 diabetes.

Because familial links to possible health issues are passed on from one generation to the next, in order to help identify disease patterns it’s crucial that parents record their families’ health history. An ideal time to compile that information is when extended family members are already scheduled to get together — Thanksgiving Day, also recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as Family History Day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 96% of Americans believe family history is important to health, yet only about 30% have tried to collect this information.

So before you carve the turkey this November 28, start a new family tradition: Survey your relatives about their own medical histories and also those of kin not in attendance, filling in as many blanks as possible. Here’s how to go about it.

Make a family tree

1. Begin with what you know. Write down your child’s name and list close relatives from both sides of the family. Include parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. . . . Try to go back three generations.

Put medical information in the family tree

2. Gather as much information about the medical problems each relative has encountered. Important information to collect includes:

  • Medical conditions and diseases — everything from cancer, hemophilia and heart disease to depression, learning disabilities and miscarriages. Note the person’s age when diagnosed.
  • Ethnicity — some diseases are closely linked to race.
  • Lifestyle habits — smoking, drinking, exercise frequency, diet, etc. Include the medical history of as many deceased relatives as possible, noting the cause of death as well as their age when they died.

Though family gatherings are a great opportunity to speak with many people in a single swoop, some relatives may prefer to talk about medical matters in private. Be considerate in your quest for answers and decide the best way to approach each family member.

Record the medical information at Hhs.gov 

3. Once you’ve compiled health information on each person, you’re ready to record the data: Either diagram it on a medical family tree printout (click “My Family Health Portrait Tool” and “Printable Versions” at Hhs.gov/familyhistory) or enter the data digitally by following the prompts at Familyhistory.hhs.gov.

This secure, personal Web-based program allows you to save your health history to your computer and distribute it to other family members.

Give your pediatrician the family health history

4. Share the completed health history with your child’s pediatrician. He will review it to detect medical patterns or early warning signs and determine if preventive screenings are needed. Update it each year to keep in sync with your child’s annual well visit.

Review your family health history

5. Remember to review the health history every couple of years and revise it as things change, disseminating the data to the entire extended brood. Doing so is an important step toward securing a long, healthy future for your child.

Freelance writer Deanne Haines is a mother of three: Two got her brown eyes; one inherited his dad’s poor eyesight.

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