How and Why to Gather Your Family Health History This Thanksgiving

Posted: Nov 26, 2019

Gathering together around the table this Thanksgiving holiday will provide a perfect opportunity to learn more about our extended families. 

Although it’s a lot of fun to debate over who drove the fastest car in 1970, I’m referring to the medical histories of your blood relatives.  A family medical history is, in plain words, the health record of a person and his or her close relatives. This could include a parent with a history of cancer or a cousin with high blood pressure, among many other things.

Why is knowing my family members’ medical history important for me?


The importance of gathering information about the history of your family’s health can not be understated.

There is a lot of value in learning the health challenges of your family.  One day you may develop the same conditions that affect your parents and grandparents. Even if you don’t, it is important to be aware of their medical concerns in case of an emergency.  Being able to recall something as simple as the name of a medicine they take could save their life one day.

Obtaining a medical history doesn’t have to be a complicated process that only happens in a medical provider’s exam room.  A casual dinner time conversation about your great-grandmother’s high blood pressure and which medicine worked for her is immensely helpful to your primary care provider.  If you could find out how old she was when her condition was first diagnosed, it might allow you to catch your own medical issues early. It is also valuable to know what conditions your family members had when they died, and what ultimately caused their death.  A significant family history of heart disease might not be apparent at first glance, but tallying the number of family members who died of heart attacks could point in that direction. A high number of relatives who have died of breast cancer could lead your primary care provider to discover a genetic predisposition to cancer in your family.

That said, it can sometimes be uncomfortable to discuss particularly sensitive medical concerns, such as mental illness and problems with alcohol, with certain relatives.  These issues are crucially important to learn about, but use your own judgment about how to broach the topic and when to gracefully change the subject in order to preserve your relationship with that family member. 

Finding out about your family can lead to you finding out about yourself.  Frequently people discover they have been battling an illness in solitude for years only to find out they have several close relatives with similar conditions.  Comparing notes about treatments that worked well for them may help you find a similar effective treatment option more quickly.

When we’re carving the turkey at the dining table with our families this Thanksgiving, why don’t we make an effort to find out more about our relatives? We’ll get to know them a little better, and we may even get to hear a story that makes the whole table erupt with laughter!

Happy Thanksgiving from us at Button Family Practice!