Family Health History, a Priceless Gift to You and Your Family

Thanksgiving is Family History Health DayEd. note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blog. The original post date was November 24, 2014.

Each year on Thanksgiving, which coincides with National Family Health History Day, I encourage everyone to focus on the importance of family health history through the Office of the Surgeon General's Family Health History Initiative.

Why is it important to discuss your family's health history? Diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease often run in families. Tracing the illnesses of your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your health care practitioner predict your risk for specific diseases and make vital screening and treatment decisions before any disease is evident.

With our online tool, My Family Health Portrait, you can gather together with your family and record your family health history. The tool is a great resource to use before going to medical appointments so you have your health history to discuss with your health care practitioner. In addition, the tool allows users to save their family history information to their own computer and share health history information with other family members.

Before you start using this tool, you will need to talk with your family members to collect details about their health histories. We even have tips on starting the conversation for you and, in about 20 minutes, you can create a unique family health history portrait.

In the future, tests may make it possible to identify and fix the glitches in genes that increase a person's susceptibility to diseases. For example, the National Institute of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute is working on technology that will allow doctors to quickly create a personalized health plan based on a person's unique genetic blueprint. In the meantime, family health history is a no-cost component of your personalized health care.

As the holiday season continues, start a new tradition and create a family health portrait! This will truly be a priceless gift to you, your family, and future generations.