Online form makes it easy to build your family health history

Think the only way to know your risk for inherited disease means paying big bucks for genetic testing? Think again.

Those clipboard forms you fill out at the doctor’s office are more than just a formality. Information about your family’s medical history can literally save lives.

Genetic tests may miss less common disease mutations and also disorders caused by a family’s shared environmental exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. That’s why compiling a free family health tree often provides more valuable insights.

“Family history is just one of the many risk factors that influence whether a person will develop diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,” says Rodolfo Valdez, an epidemiologist in the Office of Public Health Genomics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“What we know is that family history, combined with other risk factors like age and obesity, can help identify people at risk for these diseases. In the case of diabetes, it can be prevented or delayed by up to 60 percent for high-risk groups with proper diet and exercise.”

But if you’re like most people, you either don’t have that information handy or can’t remember it accurately. Even though most of us think this information is important, only about 30 percent of us have actually thought to collect our family health information, according to a 2004 HealthStyles survey by the CDC.

Thanks to an updated online government form, My Family Health Portrait you don’t have to wrack your brain to create your family health tree. The real bonus: You can e-mail the form to family members to gather their medical data. After each input, the history gets “reindexed” based on its relevance to your health. If your doctor or hospital participates in the electronic program, you can e-mail the tree into their database before your next checkup to discuss any associated health risks you may face.

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