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The Importance of Family Health History

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THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY HEALTH HISTORY

By: Karen Litwack and Elayne Goldman

November is Family Health History Month. When families gather at Thanksgiving, they may notice that they share common habits, lifestyles, and physical traits from holiday traditions to Jewish heritage to eye color. These commonalities are often passed down through the generations, both biologically through DNA, and socially through learned behaviors. Diseases that run in families are often connected to certain genes. Some diseases, such as Tay-Sachs, are based on single gene mutations, while others are based on a combination of genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Many genetic mutations occur more frequently in specific ethnic groups than in the general population. Therefore, knowing information about your ethnicity and your ancestors' countries of origin can help you determine if you or your family might be at risk. 

The National Office of Public Health Genomics found that 96 percent of Americans believe that family health history is important to health but only 30 percent have tried to organize their family health history information. The Surgeon General's annual Family Health History Month campaign is designed to encourage people to gather their family health history and discuss their findings with their healthcare provider so that this information can be added to their medical records and used to guide shared decisions about care. Today, an abundance of online tools have emerged to make tracking and sharing family health history information easier than ever.

Family health history information can provide benefits that go beyond individual health care, and knowing that history and identifying family members is just the first step along the continuum of care. This Thanksgiving start a new tradition. Pass on your family's health history to your children, grandchildren and those you care about most. Give thanks for the blessing of good health, and help yourself and others by sharing your information with your healthcare provider and researchers so that our community will benefit now and in future generations. 

Surgeon General: My Family Health Portrait: http://1.usa.gov/1xDsG4p

My Family Health Portrait is an online tool that makes it easy for you to record your family health history. The tool is easily accessible and simple to complete. It assembles your information and makes a "pedigree" (family tree) that you can download. It is private and does not keep your information. The tool gives you a health history that you can shore with family members and/or send to your healthcare provider.

Genetic Alliance Family Health History Tools: http://bit.ly/1LaRu8F

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