Family History: Learn your health history during the holidays

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Take a family poll: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds you that the holidays are the perfect time to gather and share your family health history. You and your family members share genes, and you may also have similar behaviors, cultures and environments, each of which may affect your risk of developing health problems. Everyone can benefit from knowing their family's health history and sharing this information with their doctor.

1 Before and during pregnancy: If you have a family health history of a birth defect or genetic disorder, like sickle cell disease, you might have a higher risk of having a baby with this condition, according to the CDC. Getting this information is important so you can find and address potential health problems early. If you and your doctor know this history, there may also be steps you can take to reduce your risk, such as taking folic acid to help prevent spina bifida.

2 Children: Many genetic disorders are detected in childhood, and knowing about a history of a genetic condition in your family can help your child's doctor find and treat the condition early, according to the CDC. Most don't think chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes affect children, but a strong family history of these can show signs in childhood. But just because you have a family history of a disease does not mean that your child will get that disease.

3 Young adults: A family health history of chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease can mean that you should start screening tests earlier, according to the CDC. If you have a family health history of early onset heart disease, it is recommended that you start cholesterol screening at age 20. While some young adults may not be thinking of their long-term health, having healthy lifestyle habits at this time can help decrease the possibility of chronic diseases.

4 Adults and older adults: Knowing your family health history can help your doctor decide what screening tests you need, according to the CDC. For example, if you have a grandmother, aunt or mother, who had breast cancer before age 50, you may want to talk to your doctor about cancer genetic counseling. If you are one of the older members of your family, you may know more about diseases in your family especially in relatives who are no longer living.

5 Write it all down: In order to help you and your family members, the Surgeon General created the web-based tool "My Family Portrait." (http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory) According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, a survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe knowing their family history is important. Yet, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history.

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