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Family History and Your Risk of Disease

Parenting Tips

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Updated April 25, 2008

Family members share their genes, as well as their environment, lifestyles and habits. Everyone can recognize traits that run in their family, such as curly hair, dimples, leanness or athletic ability. Risks for diseases such as asthma, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease also run in families.

Everyone's family history of disease is different. The key features of a family history that may increase risk are:

  • Diseases that occur at an earlier age than expected (10 to 20 years before most people get the disease)
  • Disease in more than one close relative
  • Disease that does not usually affect a certain gender (for example, breast cancer in a male)
  • Certain combinations of diseases within a family (for example, breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes)
It may also be concerning if multiple family members have high cholesterol or if anyone had a heart attack at a young age, like before they were 50 years old.

If your family has one or more of these features, your family history may hold important clues about your risk for disease.

To learn more about your child's family history, you should ask questions and collect information about their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, siblings, and other children, including:

  • major medical conditions and causes of death,
  • age of disease onset and age at death, and
  • ethnic background
These resources may also help you learn more about your child's family history: Be sure to tell your Pediatrician if you find anything suspicious in your child's family health history.


These tips were partly reproduced from the CDC's Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention.

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