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:

  1. Read the directions at the top. Don’t skip them. They contain important information.
  2. Take your time. You may not know all the answers. Check with your partner and family members to help you answer all the questions.
  3. 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.

More information:

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)

Last reviewed: January, 2014