That tradition of gathering around the table for a Thanksgiving feast is an annual family favorite. It’s also the perfect opportunity to talk about something that impacts us all – the family medical history.

Your family’s health history holds a great deal of information about your own health. You, your grandparents, parents, brothers, and sisters have a lot in common. All of you share the same genes, the same environment, and often, the same lifestyles and habits. Things like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure often run in families.

That’s why in 2004 the U.S. Surgeon General at the time launched a national campaign called the Family Health History Initiative.

Share your history

Always inform your doctor about your family’s medical history. Knowing which diseases run in the family will give your doctor a clearer picture of conditions that may pose a risk to you. Then your doctor can work with you to make a plan to reduce your risk. Sometimes, testing for certain conditions can be done for people who are considered “high risk.”

Your heart

Heart disease in the family is one of those conditions your doctor should know. “About 20 to 40 percent of common heart problems are inherited,” says Dr. Joseph Weiss, director of the new Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic at Rhode Island Hospital, and a cardiologist with the Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute. “If we can identify an inherited cardiac disease in advance, keep it under surveillance, and intervene appropriately, a patient’s life can be dramatically improved and prolonged.”

While heart disease is often associated with lifestyle choices like diet, exercise, and smoking, inherited heart disease may increase your risk.


Like heart disease, cancer can also be inherited among members of the same family.

“About five to 10 percent of cancer is considered genetic,” says Dr. Lauren Massingham, clinical geneticist with the Lifespan Cancer Institute. “Certain patterns of cancer or family history may be suggestive of a hereditary cancer syndrome.”

For some individuals with a family history of cancer, additional screenings may be recommended. Genetic testing may also be a possibility. You can read more about cancer and genetic testing in this blog post.

Other conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which can also lead to other complications, often run in families as well. The more you know about your family’s history, the better understanding your doctor will have of your risks, considerations for your care, and whether further testing is recommended.

So, enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, and also take the opportunity to ask questions about your family’s health history. Sharing this vital information with your doctor could mean celebrating even more holidays together!

For more information on Family History Day, you can visit the CDC’s website.

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.