Evaluating Family Health History as a Risk Factor for Disease

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  • 0:01 Family Health History
  • 1:29 Benefits
  • 3:18 Challenges
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Certain diseases run in families. A family health history gathers health information about a person's close relatives. Learn how this information can be used to help predict a patient's risk of developing a disease in their lifetime.

Family Health History

There are a lot of things that you can do to improve your health. For example, when you go to the grocery store, you can get more exercise by parking your car far away from the entrance. I know this might seem like a pain, but your waistline will thank you! And while inside the store, you can do a lot of your shopping in the produce section to make sure your diet has plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Seriously: ignore the call of the Oreo! You can even practice stress relief techniques when you find yourself stuck in the longest line of all time at the checkout counter. Improving your diet, getting more exercise and controlling stress are aspects of your health that you control.

However, there is a factor that affects your health that is out of your control. I'm talking about your family's history of disease. When you have a close relative with a certain disease, you have a higher risk of developing that same disease.

Health care professionals have known for a long time that diseases can run in families. For this reason, they understand the importance of obtaining a family health history as part of a patient's evaluation process. A family health history is a record of health information about a patient's close relatives. In this lesson, we will look at why it is important to gather a family health history and any challenges involved in obtaining this information.


Many people are interested in learning about their ancestors. It can be fun to trace your family tree and learn about the lives of those who came before you. But how much do you know about the health of those relatives? And could that knowledge affect how you live your life? If you haven't done so already, it would be good to start recording illnesses suffered by family members.

Tracking illnesses or diseases present in parents, grandparents and other relatives, helps to uncover a person's genetic susceptibility to disease. In other words, it helps to predict diseases that a person might be at risk of developing. For example, if your father and grandfather suffer from high blood pressure, then it's not unusual for you to develop the same condition. This knowledge of a family history can help a person make healthier lifestyle choices to lower their risk of disease.

Hypertension is just one condition that is known to have a genetic link. A family health history can reveal family links to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. These are diseases that we are all susceptible to, but risk is higher in those with a family history. Other somewhat common conditions that can be passed down through a family include asthma, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis and depression; rare disorders, such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, also have a genetic link.

Knowing what conditions run in a person's family allows a person to get screened early. If the condition is revealed during the screening, then treatment can be started early. So, we see that obtaining a family history can lead to early detection and treatment of disease, which can lead to a better outcome.

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