To get information, get a copy of their death certificate. This will list their cause of death and the age he or she died. To get a death certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where your relative died or go to vitalchek.com.
Helpful resources: To get help putting together your family health history, the U.S. Surgeon General offers a free web-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait” (see familyhistory.hhs.gov) that can help you collect, organize and understand your genetic risks and even share the information with your family members and doctors.
Another great resource that provides similar assistance is the Genetic Alliance’s online tool “Does It Run In the Family.”
org you can create a customized guide on your family health history for free. If you don’t have Internet access, call 202-966-5557 and ask them to send you a free hardcopy of these booklets in the mail.
And, if you’re adopted, the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Search may be able to help you locate your birth parents to get their medical history. See childwelfare.gov/
nfcad or call 800-394-3366.
Managing your results: If you discover some serious health problems that run in your family, don’t despair. While you can’t change your genes, you can change your habits to increase your chances of a healthy future.
By eating a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking, you can offset and sometimes even neutralize your genetic vulnerabilities. This is especially true for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
A family medical history also can alert you to get early and frequent screening tests, which can help detect other problems (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancers like breast, ovarian, prostrate and colon) in their early stages when they’re most treatable.