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Family Life

Your Family Health History & Genetics

It is important for parents to learn as much as they can about their family health history in order to have a complete record for your child throughout his or her life.

Family Health History Plays a Major Role In:

  • Identifying familial and hereditary disorders
  • Determining inheritance patterns and recurrence risks for known and suspected genetic disorders
  • Identifying those at risk for a genetic disorder
  • Identifying those not at risk for a genetic disorder
  • Providing information necessary for appropriate genetic counseling
  • Providing an important adjunct to patient management of all childhood diseases, such as growth problems and asthma

Ideally a family history is recorded at your child first visit to the pediatrician, as well as a mother’s first prenatal visit. A family history should also be updated yearly with each well-child visit.

Questions Your Pediatrician May Ask About Family History:

  • Are there any health problems that are known to run in your family, or that close relatives have been told are genetic? If so, what are these conditions?
  • Is there anyone in the family who had cancer, heart disease, or other adult-onset health problem at an early age, such as between 20 and 50?
  • Does/did anyone in the family have intellectual disability, learning problems, or have to go to a special school?
  • Have there been any early deaths in the family, including stillbirths, infant deaths, multiple miscarriages, or shortened life span?
  • What is your ethnic background? Some genetic conditions are more common in certain geographic, ethnic, and racial groups.
  • Have any relatives had extreme or unexpected reactions to medications or therapy?

Barriers to Collecting a Family History

According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although 96.3% of Americans considered knowledge of family history important to their personal health, only about 30% have ever tried to actively gather and organize their families’ health histories.

Barriers for families to collecting a family history include:

  • Lack of time
  • Incomplete records
  • Inaccessible family members
  • Adoption
  • Incorrect or vague diagnoses
  • Denial or guilt
  • Family members not talking to each other
  • Blame
  • Multiple family members who care for a child
  • Fear of discrimination and stigmatization

Additional Resources

Last Updated
Adapted from Medical Genetics in Primary Practice (Copyright © 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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