Before meeting with our genetic counselor, gather as much information as possible about your family’s medical history. Both your mother’s and father’s side of your family are relevant for you, regardless of your biological sex or whether you more closely resemble one side of the family more than the other.
You may receive a phone call one week prior to your appointment to review your family history, or asked to fill out a family history questionnaire at the time of your visit.
Who to talk with
It still may help to gather information from as many relatives as you can, but the more distantly related a person is, the less his or her health history is expected to affect you.
First-degree relatives — Parents, full siblings, children
Second-degree relatives — Half-siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandchildren
Third-degree relatives — First cousins
Many people find it challenging to capture a complete health history due to adoption, estrangement or simply a lack of details known or willing to be shared in the family. It’s OK to simply record the information that you can gather and know that it can be updated if more information becomes available in the future.
What to ask about
In general, you should try to gather information about whether relatives are living, their current age or age at which they passed away, and their medical history. Relevant details about health history include:
Any major health issues and age of diagnosis
Conditions that required them to see a specialist
Conditions that required them to take medication
Conditions they were born with or developed unexpectedly at a young age
Known familial mutation in a family member
Country of origin
It's also helpful to know about your relatives' environmental risk factors, too, such as history of tobacco use, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, obesity or exposure to radiation or chemicals.
You can record the information you gather in many formats, such as this example of a family health history form from Mayo Clinic. Also, if you have relatives who have visited with a genetic counselor before, they may have already had a pedigree constructed — a visual representation of the family health history, like a family tree. It may help to ask if they'd be willing to share their pedigree, as this can save you a lot of time and work when gathering family history details.