Health care professionals have known for some time that certain illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, can run in families. For example, if one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it’s not unusual for the next generation to have a similar problem.


Health care professionals have known for some time that certain illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, can run in families. For example, if one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it’s not unusual for the next generation to have a similar problem.

 

Each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. The Surgeon General encourages all families to find time during the Thanksgiving holiday to talk about and to write down the health problems that seem to run in their family. Information about family health history can help your family doctor identify certain disorders that may put you at risk and recommend specific actions to reduce those risks. And it can help in looking for early warning signs of disease.

 

The vast majority of Americans know that family history is important, but only a third of them have ever tried to gather and write down their family’s health history. Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the Surgeon General’s office created a new computerized program that makes it easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family’s health.

 

The revised version of the “My Family Health Portrait” tool is a Web-enabled program that runs on any computer that is connected to the Web and running an up-to-date version of any major Internet browser.

 

The updated version offers numerous advantages over previous versions, which had to be downloaded to the user’s computer. And it is private.

 

The Web-based tool helps users organize family history information and then print it out for presentation to their family doctor. In addition, the tool helps users save their family history information to their own computer and even share family history information with other family members. Access the My Family Health Portrait Web tool at https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/.

 

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest you ask your family members the following questions:

 

Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease, or health conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes? Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke? How old were you when you developed these diseases?

 

Also ask questions about other relatives, both living and deceased, such as:

What is our family’s ancestry — what country did they come from? What diseases did your deceased relatives have? How old were they when they died? What caused their deaths?