Family History

Guidelines and Tools to Assess Family History of Common Diseases

Value of Family History

Introduction

It is now known that people who have a family history of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer in close relatives are more likely to develop these diseases. Having a first degree relative with any one of these disease has been shown to double that person's risk of developing the disease, with the risk increasing when there are more affected relatives, and if the disease was diagnosed at an early age.

All healthcare providers generally collect family history information and need to take advantage of this information to offer specific clinical prevention and management interventions for those diseases that run in the patient's family. Examples of prevention activities include:

  1. Specific lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and stopping smoking.
  2. Start at earlier ages, more frequently, and with more intensive methods than might be used for average risk individuals.
  3. Referral to a specialist for assessment of genetic risk factors.

Screening and prevention guidelines based on family history are now available for many common diseases, and evidence is building regarding the effectiveness of these strategies for high-risk individuals.

From Genomics and Population Health: United States 2003 [cdc.gov]
Chapter 6: The Family History Public Health Initiative
Paula Yoon and Maren Scheuner

For your patients: Your Disease Risk: The Source On Prevention [yourdiseaserisk.wustl.edu]

This consumer-based model helps individuals to find out the risk of developing five of the most important diseases in the United States, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke and get personalized tips for preventing them.

Guidelines and Tools for Six Common Diseases

Top of page

Last Reviewed: November 3, 2014