It is common to have only a limited sense of relatives’ medical problems. But it’s also dangerous—many problems have a significant genetic component. Listing family members’ problems in a “family medical history” could save your life…and save you money—if there’s a problem in your family that requires expensive care, you can select an insurance product that helps cover the medical bills.


Collecting the Data

Ask as many family members as possible what medical problems they’ve experienced, then gather this info into a document. To create a family history…

Focus on health issues that have a genetic component, including cancers, heart disease/hypertension, neurodegenerative conditions and more. If you’re not certain if a disease could be genetic, enter its name and the phrase “does it run in families” into a search engine and look for results from trustworthy sources, such as nonprofits associated with the disease or sites with addresses ending in “.gov.”

Get details about each diagnosis. What specific form of the disease did this relative have? How old was he/she when diagnosed? If relatives can’t recall key details, urge them to ask their health-care providers to check their medical records…or ask if they recall which treatments they received—that could help pin down these diagnoses.

Ask if any lifestyle or employment factors contributed to the medical problem. Example: If a relative had lung cancer, it’s worth noting if he smoked or worked with asbestos.

Frame this as a project that could protect every family member. Some loved ones might consider their health problems private, but they may decide that younger relatives’ health outweighs their privacy concerns.

Ask if they’ve taken genetic tests for potential health risks. If so, ask them to share the results and include these in the family medical history.

Ask if they know anything about the medical history of now-deceased relatives. Surviving relatives might know that grandma had cancer but not which form of cancer, for example. Add the info they do have to your document, but include caveats noting any uncertainty.


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