Do you know your family history? For many people, family history means the listing of who was married to whom, and what famous people your family might have been related to from the past. But there is another kind of family history that everyone should be aware of — your family health history.
Websites like Ancestry.com have become popular ways for people to get in touch with their roots and dig out hidden secrets from their family’s past. But those kinds of websites are not likely to provide the kind of information that could be crucial in making the best decisions about your health care.
Your family health history is a road map of medical experiences, conditions and diagnoses within your family that could impact your personal risk for serious diseases. Family health history is important because research has shown that some diseases run in families because of genetics.
Your personal genes are a combination of genetic material called DNA that you received from your biological father and mother. Each of them received genes from their parents. So you are physically connected to generations of your blood relatives through your genes.
The characteristics of your body are controlled by your genes. Genes determine visible traits like hair and eye color, and also influence internal health, such as your overall risk for health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Other serious conditions that can be affected by your family’s health history include heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer and diabetes. Rare conditions that are caused by a genetic mutation such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis can also run in a family.
It is important to recognize that just because a disease is present in your family does not mean you are definitely going to get it. Some conditions seem to skip a generation, or may affect only some members of the family.
Some conditions are more common in either women or men. In those situations, for example, a man in the family may not get the disease but he could pass on the risk factor to his daughter.