Collecting your family health history

Thanksgiving is a time when many families get together, celebrate and give thanks. It’s  also a great time to talk about your family’s health history. Your family health history includes information about you, your partner and both your families.

While you wait for the turkey, stuffing and fixings to go around, take some time learn about health conditions that run in your family. Knowing your family health history can help you make important health decisions. If you plan on getting pregnant, it can help you learn about the health of your baby even before she’s born! Knowing about health conditions before or early in pregnancy can help you and your health care provider decide on the right treatments and care for your baby. 

How to collect your family health history

Talk to your family. Use our family health history form to help you. Print out a few copies and share them with your family. Have them add as much information as they can about their health and the health of their parents, grandparents and other family members. Try to get a form from everyone in your family and your partner’s family.

Ask questions. Ask about conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. And ask about any history of premature birth and other pregnancy problems. You also can ask about your ethnic group. An ethnic group is a group of people, often from the same country, who share language or culture. Some health conditions, like sickle cell and Tay-Sachs, are more common in some ethnic groups.

What to do if some family members don’t want to share their family health history

Not everyone wants to talk about health. Some members of your family may feel that health conditions are private.  Don’t be upset if people don’t want to share. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Try having a one-on-one conversation with family members who don’t want to fill out the form.
  • Tell them why you’re asking about their health history.
  • If they know why it’s important to you, they may be more willing to share health information. Learning about health problems can help you and your family live healthier lives.

How to use your family health history

Once you’ve got it, share it! Show it to:

  • Your provider. You can do so at your preconception checkup or your first prenatal care appointment. Your family health history can help him figure out if you’re likely to pass a condition to your baby during pregnancy.
  • Your family members. It’s great information for everyone in your family. It’s really helpful for someone who’s pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant.

If you learn that your family has a health condition that gets passed from parent to child, you may want to see a genetic counselor. This is a person who is trained to help you understand about how genes, birth defects and other health problems run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby’s health. Your provider can help you find a genetic counselor, or you can contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors.