Most of us know that we can reduce our risk of disease by eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and not smoking. But did you know that your family history might be one of the strongest influences on your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer? Even though you cannot change your genetic makeup, knowing your family history can help you reduce your risk of developing health problems.
Family members share their genes, as well as their environment, lifestyles and habits. Everyone can recognize traits that run in their family, such as curly hair, dimples, leanness or athletic ability. Risks for diseases such as asthma, diabetes, cancer and heart disease also run in families.
People with a family history of disease may have the most to gain from lifestyle changes and screening tests. You can’t change your genes, but you can change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, inactivity and poor eating habits. In many cases, adopting a healthier lifestyle can reduce your risk for diseases that run in your family.
Screening tests (such as mammograms and colorectal cancer screenings) can detect diseases like cancers at an early stage when they are most treatable. Screening tests can also detect disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can be treated to reduce your risk for disease.
How to Learn More About Your Family Health History
Collect information about your grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, siblings and children. The type of information you should collect includes:
- major medical conditions and causes of death
- age of disease onset and age at death
- ethnic background
To learn about your family history, don’t be afraid to:
- ask questions
- talk to relatives at family gatherings
- look at death certificates
- review family medical records