Your family health history
Your family health history is a record of any health conditions and treatments that you, your partner and everyone in both of your families have had. It can help you find out about medical problems that run in your family that may affect your pregnancy and your baby.
Taking your family health history can help you make important health decisions. It can help you learn about the health of your baby even before he’s born! Knowing about health conditions before or early in pregnancy can help you and your health care provider decide on treatments and care for your baby.
How do you take your family health history?
Use this form (.PDF, 424KB) to take your family health history. Send a copy of the form to family members related to you by blood. Ask them to fill it out and send it back to you. Have them add as much information as they can about their health and the health of their parents, grandparents and other family members. Try to get a form from everyone in your family and your partner’s family.
Use these tips when filling out the form:
- Read the directions at the top. Don’t skip them. They contain important information.
- Take your time. You may not know all the answers. Check with your partner and family members to help you answer all the questions.
- Focus on just family members who are related to you by blood. This includes your brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents. You don’t need to include any step-parents or other step-family members.
Keeping track of your health history never stops. Add to it as your family grows and changes. To help make sure that your history is up to date, keep copies of:
- Medical exams, including dates and treatments
- Test results
- Medicines you take, both prescription and over-the-counter
Family events can be a great time to get your family health history. At your next family gathering, ask everyone in your family to tell you their health histories. Go back as many generations as you can — ask about your grandparents and great grandparents.
What if some family members don’t want to share their family health history information?
Not everyone wants to talk about health. Some members of your family may feel that health conditions are private. Some may be worried about what you find out about your family’s health.
Don’t be upset if people don’t want to share. Try having a one-on-one conversation with those who don’t want to fill out the form. Tell them why you’re asking about their health history. If they know why it’s important to you, they may be more willing to share health information. Learning about health problems can help you and your family live healthier lives.
If you or your partner is adopted, you may not know much about your birth family’s health history. This is OK. Start collecting your own medical information and add what you do know about your birth family.
How do you find information on family members who are no longer living?
If you have trouble finding information about family members who lived before you, you can:
- Get death certificates from a state health department. They usually cost about $10 and have information about the person’s age and how he died.
- Ask for the person’s medical records from providers who cared for him before he died.
- Check with hospitals or clinics where he was treated.
Keep copies of any health records you find, including checkups, hospital forms and tests results.
How can you use your family health history?
Once you’ve got it, share it! Show it to:
- Your health care provider at your preconception checkup or your first prenatal care appointment. He can use it to see what health conditions run in your family. This can help him figure out if you’re likely to pass these conditions to your baby during pregnancy. Some providers may have their own forms or use electronic tools (like a tablet) to collect family health history. If so, use the information you’ve gathered to fill out your provider’s form. And give him a copy of your form for his records.
- Your family members. It’s great information for everyone in your family. It’s really helpful for someone who’s pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant.
If you learn that your family has a health condition that gets passed from parent to child, you may want to see a genetic counselor. This is a person who is trained to help you understand about how genes, birth defects and other medical conditions run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby's health. Ask your health care provider if you need help finding a genetic counselor. Or contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
How can you make sure your family health history is kept private?
Any health information you share with your provider is private and safe. It doesn’t matter if the information comes from a prenatal test, is written down in a paper form, gets added into a computer or is shared during a talk you have with your provider. Only your health care team knows your health information, and they’re not allowed to share it with anyone else without your permission.
So don’t be afraid to be honest with your provider or to share your health concerns with her. She can’t tell anyone else what you say without your permission.
For more information:
U.S. Surgeon General’s Office My family health portrait tool
Genetic Alliance Does it run in the family?
Genetic Alliance Genes In Life
American Society of Human Genetics and Genetic Alliance Know your family health history
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC Show Your Love
Last reviewed January 2014
See also: A family health history form (.PDF, 424KB), Chinese family health history brochure (PDF, 382KB), Importance of family health history in the African-American community (PDF, 988KB)
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know you're pregnant?
Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant:
If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby.
How soon can I take a pregnancy test?
Home pregnancy tests are usually more accurate when your period is late - about 2 weeks after conception (getting pregnant). If they're done too early, they may say that you're not pregnant when you really are. This is called a false negative. That's why it’s best to take a home pregnancy test when your period is late. Carefully follow the test's instructions. Tests done at a lab or at your health care provider's office are more accurate.
I’m late for my period but my pregnancy test is negative. Why?
If you've taken a home pregnancy test and it's negative (shows that you're not pregnant), you may want to take a blood pregnancy test at your health care provider's office. A blood pregnancy test is more sensitive than a home pregnancy test that checks your urine. The blood pregnancy test can tell a pregnancy very early on.
Pregnancy tests work by looking for the hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that a woman's body makes during pregnancy. If both a blood and urine test come back negative and you still have a missed period, talk with your health care provider. Things like stress, eating habits, illness or infection can cause changes in your menstrual cycle.
I’ve been trying to get pregnant for 3 months. What’s wrong?
Pregnancy may not occur right away, so there is no need to worry. For most couples, it may take up to 1 year to conceive. If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, or 6 months if you're over 35, it may be time to talk with your health care provider. You and your partner can get tests to find out why you are not getting pregnant
Is it possible to ovulate without having a period?
Ovulation is when a woman's ovary releases an egg. This egg travels down into the fallopian tube. If you had sex without using birth control, sperm will swim up to meet your egg so that your egg can be fertilized. If no fertilization occurs, and after about two weeks, your body sheds the unfertilized egg, the uterine lining and blood and tissue that would have nurtured a fertilized egg. This is known as menstruation (your period).
You ovulate before you menstruate. But if you don't get your period, it doesn't necessarily mean that you haven't ovulated. For example, some women have irregular cycles. Even if you're very regular, once in a while your cycle may change. Therefore, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when you ovulate. If you don't get your period, you may want to take a pregnancy test.
What is the best time to get pregnant?
The best time to get pregnant is a few days before ovulation or the day of ovulation. This is because a man's sperm can live up to 72 hours after intercourse and a woman's egg is fertile for 12 to 24 hours after its release. If your periods are regular, use an ovulation calculator. If your periods are irregular, use one of the following. Talk to your health care provider to learn more about the most effective way to use these.
- Purchase a basal body thermometer. Use it to take your temperature before you get out of bed every day. Your temperature goes up by 1 degree when you ovulate.
- Check the mucus in your vagina. It may become thinner, more slippery, clearer and more plentiful just before ovulation.
- Purchase an ovulation prediction kit. Use it to test your urine for a substance called luteinizing hormone (LH). LH increases each month during ovulation.
Have intercourse as close as possible to ovulation to improve your chance of getting pregnant.