Tips for Collecting Family History before Visiting a Genetic Counselor

A complete and accurate family history can provide essential information related to the health of your child. Healthcare providers are offering women prenatal testing in conjunction with an analysis of the expectant parents’ family history to evaluate the risk that the child may be born with a genetic condition.

one week old newborn girl on daddy's hand.

Women now have the option of choosing noninvasive prenatal DNA testing, which reduces the risks associated with invasive procedures. These tests, coupled with a family history, will allow your doctor to assess your child’s risk of a chromosome abnormality.

A complete family history is very useful for prenatal screening and analysis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define a useful family medical history record to include 3 generations of biological relatives and their diagnosed conditions.

Why Is the Family Medical History Important?

The family’s medical history can reveal important inheritance patterns. As genes are passed through generations, they may hold the key to a pattern of genetic disorders and other health conditions that may develop later in life. In addition to genetic heritage, environmental factors and lifestyle choices may contribute to the development of certain conditions.

For expecting parents, a family medical history can help uncover the likelihood that a genetic disorder will be passed onto their children. Other decisions that can be deduced through the use of a family medical history is whether a specialist may need to be consulted to conduct any further analysis or to discuss specific care for your child.

What Information Should Be Collected?

Researcher holding up a DNA strand in the laboratory

Many family members tend to share the same lifestyle habits and environmental factors. For this reason, a complete family history includes more than known diseases and conditions. The organization Genes in Life suggests collecting the following information:

  • Name of each family member and their relation to you
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Date and place of birth
  • The age at time of death and cause of death for those deceased
  • Any conditions or diseases inherited or developed
  • Age at which symptoms became present, and date of diagnosis
  • Lifestyle habits including diet and activity
  • Occupation
  • Ancestry and cultural information

Methods of Collecting Family Medical History

Access to a family tree will provide a great visual for annotating the recommended three generations of biological relatives. If possible, speak directly with family members to obtain information on any known conditions.

Some family members may not be open to talking in person. Create a questionnaire and offer to send it via email. This may help ease any anxiety caused by having to remember facts in the moment when talking in person or over the phone.

Get Organized

The best way to take a comprehensive look at the information you collect is to organize it in an easy-to-read format. Each individual will differ in which method works best, but some ideas include making a tree diagram, drawings, spreadsheets, or forms. Having the information well organized will be extremely beneficial to your healthcare provider and genetic counselor.

 Work With a Genetic Counselor

Happy young pregnant woman and her doctor in hospital

Genetic counselors have specialized knowledge in medical genetics and counseling. These healthcare professionals work side by side with expecting parents to answer questions about heredity and prenatal testing in addition to providing emotional support during the process.

Speak with your healthcare provider if you would like more information on prenatal screening tests, or if you suspect that there is a history of a genetic condition in your family.

Article Submitted By Community Writer

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