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Sharing is caring: Know your family's health history

May 11, 2019—Mother's Day is a day for moms and families. If you haven't already, you might use this day as inspiration to begin collecting your family medical history.

Knowing your family's health is one of the first steps in understanding health risks for both you and your children. But where do you begin?

It all starts with family

Families can share a lot—including an increased risk for certain chronic diseases, such as cancer or heart disease. By sharing personal health information, you can help protect each other and younger generations too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are a few first steps for gathering your family medical history.

Start the conversation. If the opportunity presents itself, holidays can be a good time to talk about your family health history. Eventually, you want to collect information on as many family members as possible. Your grandparents, parents and siblings are important, but you might also include aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

Be sensitive. Not everyone may be comfortable talking about their health, so don't press if someone doesn't want to share. Or set up a time to speak in private if they'd prefer that.

Ask specific questions when possible. In addition to finding out current medical conditions, you might ask about causes of death, ages at disease diagnosis, disabilities and ethnic backgrounds.

Update often and share. This information is useful, but medical history changes. Make sure to keep up with those changes. Then share what you've learned with younger generations.

You can use this handy tool from the Office of the Surgeon General for organizing your family's health history.

Moving forward in good health

Discussing your family's medical history with your doctor is the ultimate goal, so your risks can be assessed on a regular basis. But once you share it, don't let that be the end of your hard work.

Even if you're at high risk for a condition based on family history, there are steps you can take to reduce other risk factors. That may include eating better, moving more and quitting smoking. Sometimes, it means earlier screening tests are advised.

Write a healthier future. You may find that sharing stories and information brings you closer to loved ones and better health.

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