How Tracing Your Family Health History Could Save Your Life...
And Your Loved Ones

As any health-care professional will tell you, your family health history is like a first genetic test. It can tell you about the health problems you and your family can expect over the next 5, 10 or 20 years. This information could be a lifesaver.

MyFamilyHealth is a website that helps you work with your relatives to gather, organize and analyze your family health history all in one place. It's completely free, easy and safe. It could be the key to longer, healthier lives for you and your loved ones.

What is family health history?

It's a record of the health problems that run in your family. It brings together all your family's stories about good and bad health. Sometimes this is recorded as a "pedigree". This is like a drawing of a family tree that includes health information, such as the diseases that affect family members.

How does it work?

We all know physical traits run in families. You might have your Dad's nose, your Grandpa's height or your Mother's eyes. What many of us don't think about is that health problems can also run in families. Which means you might also have your Dad's high cholesterol, your Grandpa's hypertension and be at risk of your Mum's cancer. By exploring your family health history, you can discover the specific diseases that run in your family. This is because family health history gives insights into the shared genes, environment and behaviors among family members. These are things that combine to influence who you are and how healthy you are. This is why knowing about the health of your family members is relevant to you and why your health is relevant to them.

Why do health problems run in families?

Small structures in cells called genes carry instructions that influence how you look and how your body works. You get one set of genes from your mother and one set from your father. The genes can match up in many different ways to make different combinations. This is why no two family members look identical. Unless of course they are identical twins with the same combination of genes.

Sometimes there can be changes in the instructions of a gene. This is called a mutation. We are all mutants because each of us has many mutations. In most cases, mutations do not cause any problems and can sometimes be slightly helpful. But sometimes they can cause disease and lead to a risk in the family for developing certain health conditions.

Thousands of diseases are caused by a specific change in the DNA of a single gene. Many of these diseases are rare. These conditions usually develop when an individual is born with a mutated gene. But most common diseases are influenced by many mutations in different genes. Even if a rare disease runs in your family, don't forget to learn about more common diseases that affect your family's health.

So does family health history tell me about my genes?

Yes, but not just your genes. Most diseases are caused by a combination of your genes, your lifestyle choices and your environment. In other words, they are a result of both nature and nurture. And genes are not the only things you and your family members have in common. Family members, especially immediate kin, tend to share the same lifestyle and environment. For example, the kind of food you eat, how you deal with stress, your culture and values. There are many influences that you and your family members take from each other. This is why knowing about the health of your family members is relevant to you and why your health is relevant to them.

How can family health history be used?

Your family health history can help you and your doctor spot the health conditions and diseases that run in your family. Your healthcare professional can use this information for a number of things, including:

  • Diagnose a medical condition - even one that might not otherwise be considered
  • Find out if you might benefit from preventive measures to lower your risk of a specific disease
  • Decide what medical tests to run, including direct testing of your DNA
  • Identify other members of your family who are at risk of developing certain diseases
  • Calculate your risk of certain diseases
  • Calculate your risk of passing certain conditions to your children

The bottom line is that family health history can help to detect potential problems early. This can make all the difference. The earlier you know, the better the chances of successfully treating or even preventing serious conditions.

Isn't it up to my doctor to decide how and when to get this information?

No. You must help your doctor to help you. In a first consultation a doctor typically asks some on-the-spot questions about the history of illness in your family. Here are just some important questions about family health history:

Surveys show that doctors often don't feel confident about the information provided by patients in response to on-the-spot questions like these.

Suppose you can answer all these questions completely and accurately. Doctors usually don't have the time and resources to effectively gather and record this information. An average consultation with a doctor lasts about 7 minutes. Collecting a detailed family health history can take at least 30 minutes. This is a reality of today's health care systems.

This is why a patient-driven system is best. After all, it is you and your relatives who are best-placed to collect a complete and accurate family health history. Doing this is a great step toward managing your own health and receiving better healthcare for you and your family.

If it's so important, why do so few people know about their family health history?

If you answered "Very important" and "No", then you're not alone. A survey by the US Department of Health and Human Services shows that 96% of people think that knowing family health history is important. Yet less than a third of those people have actively tried to collect their family health history information.

If you want to collect your family health history,
the immediate questions are:

  • How do I start?
  • What information do I collect?
  • How should the information be recorded?
And even when you know the answers to these questions, the traditional way of collecting family health history is not easy. It takes planning and effort. So it's little wonder that few of us have gotten around to doing it.

Collecting Your Family Health History - the Traditional and Complicated Way

Your relatives are the best source of information about your family health history. So starting a conversation with them is a good way to begin. There are many published guides or 'toolkits' describing the traditional approach to collecting and recording this information. Their advice can be summarized in 10 steps:

Following these steps requires a lot of planning, organization and digging around. At least one member of the family has to coordinate the process. Most published guides recommend family events, like parties, dinners and reunions as an opportunity to talk. Knowledge, experiences and memories can be shared at these events. This gives a more complete and accurate picture of family health history. But it's not always easy to talk directly about health matters with your family. This might explain why we often know more about our friends' health than we do about our own kin.

Collecting Your Family Health History - the Smart and Easy Way

The Internet has changed the way we acquire information – including health information. Most of us have used Google to search for information about a health-related topic; either for ourselves or on behalf of a loved one. The Internet has also made it easier and more convenient than ever to communicate with friends and family, no matter where in the world they might be.

MyFamilyHealth brings the power of the Internet to the problem of how to track family health history. It gives all family members a chance to learn and contribute in their own time and at their convenience. With MyFamilyHealth, you can collect this valuable information in one safe and secure place where the whole family can access it, update it and benefit from it.

I want to learn more about my family health history, what should I do?

Sign-up for a free account. You can get started straight away. In 3 simple steps, you will be on the way to discovering your own family health history:

1. Create your family tree: sign-up with MyFamilyHealth.com and start building your family tree using our interactive system. It's so easy it's fun. Add brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. As you enter family members to your tree, you can add their emails and automatically invite them to help you build the tree on their side of the family.

2. Record your family health history: add medical information to your tree. Log the health conditions affecting you and your family members. An accurate and detailed family health history emerges as everybody contributes information about themselves and the relatives on their side of the family.

3. Review your health risks: as you and your relatives enter information into MyFamilyHealth, you will see patterns of recurrent health conditions and shared risk factors in your family. Our system will also raise alerts on finding patterns that indicate a genetic conditions or inherited susceptibilities to specific conditions.

Follow these steps and you and your family can take advantage of one of the most powerful tools to maintaining health. It will cost nothing except your time.

  • Create a rich, evolving and medically useful of tree your family, for your family.
  • Discover and learn about the health problems that run in your family – including conditions that might not otherwise be considered by your physician.
  • Discover if you or your family members could benefit from specific diagnostic, genetic or screening tests.
  • Join a community and share information with others who have the same health interests as you (coming soon).
  • Help your physician to help you – share your family health history with your doctor and receive better guidance to delay, improve or even prevent bad health.

Is it safe to record personal information about me and my family on a website?

Our system is designed to be easy, safe and secure. But no system is 100% secure – the very act of recording any information, electronically or on paper, means that there is at least a theoretical chance of it being discovered. On the other hand, it is vitally important that family members talk to each other about health, work together to record family health history and share this information with each other and their physicians. The benefits of doing this are proven and supported by the medical community and can be potentially lifesaving.

We always value your privacy and have implemented a robust system that safeguards you and your data. MyFamilyHealth is committed to complying with the privacy principles of the Safe Harbor (see http://export.gov/safeharbor). With MyFamilyHealth you get complete control over what information you share and with whom.

Your family tree
Only the members of your family tree can see your complete tree. People outside your family tree are not permitted to see your tree, unless invited. You can invite people outside your family tree (e.g. your doctor, your friends) to view a version of your family tree.

Your profile & search
Only the people in your family tree and your invited friends can see your individual profile. You can lock your profile to prevent anyone in your tree from viewing or editing it. You can also choose if you would like to participate in our community where you can connect with other people who have the same health interests as you. Additional controls allow you to precisely restrict what information that can be viewed in your profile.

Your email
We will not provide your personal information to advertisers or third parties. This includes your email address and the email addresses of those you invite. Through your account settings you can also control which emails you receive from us.