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This holiday season, resolve to discover your family health history

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Family gatherings around the holidays are the perfect time to learn more about and share the health history of your family. A few thoughtful questions can go a long way to revealing ways you can work to prevent future disease and improve your health.

Vice Admiral (VADM) Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., the U.S. Surgeon General, has upheld this proud tradition by encouraging Americans to talk about their family health histories at this year's holiday gatherings and make a record of their inherited health conditions.

To make it easy for members of the public to construct family health histories, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the Office of the Surgeon General developed My Family Health Portrait. This online tool - originally created for the first National Family Health History Day and updated several times since - assembles family health information in a format that can be printed and shared.

"Getting started may be the biggest hurdle in building a family health history," said Laura Lyman Rodriguez, Ph.D.,  director of NHGRI's Division of Policy, Communications and Education. "Ease of use is a prominent feature of the My Family Health Portrait tool."

Ideally, a family health history should contain health information about at least three generations, listing the diseases and conditions that have affected family members, the age a disease was diagnosed and, in the case of deceased family members, the cause of death. The most important relatives to include are parents, siblings and children. Combinations of diseases within a family should be noted, like heart disease and diabetes, or breast and ovarian cancer.  

Once completed, share your family history with your healthcare provider. Knowing that a particular disease is prevalent in a family's health history can help healthcare providers assess risk and guide health strategies.

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Posted: December 17, 2015