FAQ About Genetics, Disease Prevention and Treatment

National Human Genome Research Institute

National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Genetics, Disease Prevention and Treatment


Genetic research is creating new ways for people to take action and prevent disease and new ways to treat disease through personalized medicine.

How can learning about my family's health history help me prevent disease?

We have known for a long time that common diseases like heart disease, asthma, cancer, and diabetes can run in families. Rare diseases like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia also run in families. For example, if a parent has high blood pressure, his or her child is more likely to have high blood pressure as an adult.

Learning about the health history of your family and sharing this information with your health care provider can help you learn whether you have an increased chance of getting some common diseases.

Your health care provider can then give you individualized and specific education about how to:

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How can I learn about my family's health history?

To help people use family history to improve their health, the U.S. Surgeon General started a national public health campaign called the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative. This goal of this campaign is to have all American families learn more about their family health history.

My Family Health Portrait is a tool from the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative that you can find on the Web. The tool helps you gather and organize your own family health history. You can find it in either English or Spanish. Using any computer with an Internet connection, you can build a drawing of your family tree and make a chart of your family health history. Both the chart and the drawing can be printed and shared with your family members or your health care provider.

Go to: My Family Health Portrait [familyhistory.hhs.gov]

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How can knowing about genetics help treat disease?

Every year, more than two million Americans have serious side effects from prescription medicines and as many as one hundred thousand die. A "one-size-fits-all" approach to medicine might lead to some of these side effects, since all people are different. Genetic research is helping us figure out how individual people will respond to medicines. This type of research is called "pharmacogenetics" and "pharmagenomics."

For more information about Pharmacogenetics and Pharmacogenomics go to:

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What are some examples of using genetic information in the treatment of disease?

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What are some concerns about using genetic information in disease treatment?

Some people have concerns about using genetic information in the treatment of disease. These concerns include:

Learn more: Issues in Genetics

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Where can I get more information?

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Last Updated: November 18, 2014