Everyone knows that Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November, but did you know it’s also Family Health History Day? When you’re gathering around the table, talking on the phone, or engaging in a family video call, it’s an opportunity to talk about your family health history and get any questions you have answered.
Why Family Health History is Important
Many chronic conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease, and conditions like cancer or hereditary disease, can run in families. These conditions run in families due to genetic factors that get passed down from parents to children. Knowing which diseases have affected your family can help you identify your risk of developing those same conditions. Discovering a relative’s ailments doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be diagnosed with the same conditions, but knowing which family members have potentially heritable conditions can help your doctor identify when extra screening or preventive measures could help protect your health.
1. Ask Your Relatives
Talk with your relatives about conditions that they’ve had and their relatives have had. You can ask questions such as:
- Does anyone in the family have any chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or high cholesterol?
- Has anyone in the family had cancer? What kind, and how old were they?
- Has anyone in the family ever had a genetic disorder like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia?
Focusing on conditions that can run in families can help you understand which conditions are most likely to impact your health.
2. Record Your Findings
You’ll get the most benefit out of learning your family history if you keep track of the information you learn from your relatives and update it regularly. Whenever you learn of a condition in the family, do your best to record it, along with how that person is related to you and at what age they were diagnosed. You can write it down, save it in your phone, or use an online tool like the Surgeon General’s free My Family Health History portal.
3. Share With Your Doctor
Your family health history, even if incomplete, can help your doctor make more personalized recommendations for your health. Depending on what conditions run in your family, your practitioner could suggest preventative lifestyle changes, earlier or additional disease screening, or other measures to help improve your long-term health.
4. Consider Genetic Testing
Our genes contain the instructions for how our cells grow and function. Sometimes alterations in genes, called mutations, can cause or increase a person’s risk of developing certain diseases. When these mutations are passed down to a person’s children, it can increase their disease risk as well. Scientists have identified many hereditary mutations, called genetic variants, that are involved in diseases like cancer and chronic kidney disease, and genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis.
If one of these diseases is present in your family health history, or if you don’t have access to family health records, your doctor might recommend genetic testing to help determine if you carry genetic variants that could increase your risk for developing a condition.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, carrier screening is recommended, regardless of your family history. Up to 88% of carriers of cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and fragile X syndrome have no known family history.1 If you know a genetic disorder is in your family tree, carrier screening is essential to help understand your potential to pass it on to your children.
If you have a genetic variant for a condition, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll develop that disease, but it is likely that you could benefit from additional measures to help prevent or detect the condition. If you learn that you are a carrier and decide to have children, a genetic counselor can help you understand your risk of passing on the gene, the likelihood of having a child with a disorder, and your options for pregnancy.
Learn How Natera’s Suite of Genetic Tests Can Help
Natera offers multiple genetic tests to help you understand your genetic risk for disease. The EmpowerTM hereditary cancer test identifies a range of genetic variants associated with increased risk for many types of cancer. The RenasightTM kidney gene panel tests for increased hereditary risk of developing chronic kidney disease. HorizonTM carrier screening helps future parents understand their risk of passing on a genetic condition to a child.
We recommend that anyone interested in genetic testing with Natera reviews their family history with their doctor or a genetic counselor. You can schedule a complimentary information session, where a board-certified genetic counselor at Natera reviews your questions with you to determine how genetic testing can help you get the answers you need.
Discover Your History and Take Action
The holiday season offers the opportunity to learn more about your family’s history and what it means for you and your family’s health. If you find conditions in your family tree, speak with your doctor about what they could mean for you, and ask about genetic testing to clarify your risk.
1Archibald, A., Smith, M., Burgess, T. et al. Genet Med 20, 513–523 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/gim.2017.134
Empower has been developed and its performance characteristics determined by the CLIA-certified laboratory performing the test. The test has not been cleared or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CAP accredited, ISO 13485 certified, and CLIA certified. © 2021 Natera, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Horizon has been developed and its performance characteristics determined by the CLIA-certified laboratory performing the test. The test has not been cleared or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CAP accredited, ISO 13485 certified, and CLIA certified. © 2021 Natera, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Renasight has been developed and its performance characteristics determined by the CLIA-certified laboratory performing the test. The test has not been cleared or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CAP accredited, ISO 13485 certified, and CLIA certified. © 2021 Natera, Inc. All Rights Reserved.