Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Family medical history

4-minute read

Some health conditions can be passed down by parents to their children. If a close relative has one of these hereditary diseases, you are more likely than the general population to develop it too. However, knowing your risks can guide you in making changes to benefit your long-term health.

Why is it important to know your family's medical history?

If your family has a history of developing a particular condition, you may be at higher risk than the general population of developing it too. Knowing your family’s medical history will help you identify these risks. You’ll then know which changes will be most valuable in helping you to decrease your risk.

When you see a doctor for the first time, they will probably ask you about the health of your immediate relatives. Keep your doctor updated as you get older since this will help them manage your particular health risks.

If you are planning to start a family, you may wish to investigate whether any genetic disorders can be found in you or your partner’s family trees.

Some diseases that run in families are hereditary diseases caused by genetic disorders. These include Huntington's disease, cystic fibrosis and others.

In other family-related health conditions, while your genes may increase the risk of developing a disease, they are not the only cause. Heart disease, diabetes and some cancers fall into this category.

Are you at risk?

Find out if you're at risk of heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes in just a few minutes using the healthdirect Risk Checker.

It’s a good idea for everyone to record their own family health history. Being proactive in discovering your risks is better than waiting until a disease appears.

How can you learn about your family’s medical history?

You can investigate your family’s medical history by talking to relatives, beginning with those closest to you, such as your parents, children, and brothers and sisters.

Some people may not want to talk about their health, but any information is useful, even if it is incomplete. Record your own health details too.

Next, talk to or ask about more distant relatives:

  • grandparents or grandchildren
  • aunts and uncles
  • nieces and nephews
  • half-brothers and half-sisters
  • cousins

You may be able to research the cause of death of older relatives by obtaining their death certificates. You can apply for a death certificate from a state-based birth, deaths and marriages registry.

What should be included in a family medical history?

For each person in your family medical tree, record the following information:

  • name
  • sex
  • year of birth and age (or year of death)
  • ethnicity (because some conditions are more prevalent in certain ethnic groups)
  • major medical conditions and when each one developed (especially if before 60 years of age)
  • lifestyle issues that could be related (such as smoking or type of employment)

Record this information in a family health tree or other document. Health WA and NSW Health have produced examples on which you might like to base your document.

Keep your record in a safe place and update it regularly. You might like to share the family medical information with other close relatives, such as children or siblings.

What diseases run in the family?

Diseases and conditions that can run in the family include:

What can you do if you have a family history of a disease?

You should speak to your doctor if you are concerned about a particular disease in your family medical tree. It may be a disease that has occurred in many close relatives, or has shown up in relatives at a young age. Remember that you will not necessarily develop the disease, and you may develop conditions for which there is no family history.

Your doctor can advise you on whether you should take any action. For example, it might be appropriate to:

  • investigate your risks in more detail (for example, your doctor may refer you to a genetics health professional to discuss genetic testing)
  • take preventive action to reduce your risk (for example, make lifestyle changes to reduce the likelihood of type 2 diabetes or heart disease)
  • get more regular check-ups or even early treatment

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2019

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Family history | Vision Initiative

Information on the link between family history of eye disease and eye health

Read more on Vision Initiative website

Your family health history

Your family health history is important to your health. Families can share many things that can increase your risk of getting a health condition including genes and lifestyle habits (for example, poor diet, lack of exercise or smoking).

Read more on WA Health website

Your Health Information

Information on your health information, medical history and records

Read more on NSW Health Care Complaints Commission website

Your Family Health History Centre for Genetics Education

Your family health history can help you identify whether you have an increased chance of developing a genetic condition.

Read more on NSW Health website

Babies With Existing Allergy or Family History Nip Allergies in the Bub

Babies With Existing Allergy or Family History It is important that you have discussed your babys allergy with a doctor so that you are only avoiding the foods that are necessary

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Blue Book - Maternal, child and family health

The 'Blue Book' is another name for the Personal Health Record. This booklet, bound in a blue plastic cover, is produced by the NSW Ministry of Health, and is given to all parents in NSW after the birth of a baby.

Read more on NSW Health website

Life Insurance Products and Genetic Testing In Australia

In Australia genetic information, which includes your personal medical history and results of genetic tests and information about the health of your first degree relatives (parents, children, brothers, sisters) can have implications for life insurance policies.

Read more on NSW Health website

Family cancers - Cancer Council Australia

Find out what it means to have a family history of cancer, the different types of family cancers and who you can contact for further information.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Becoming parents: video | Raising Children Network

In this video, some parents talk about becoming a parent. They describe how family history, cultural influences and values affect parenting decisions.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Mental Illness

It is important that people who have a mental illness and who find that they have a life limiting illness are able to access the help they need. There are many services that can help if someone has had a mental illness history, or if they are caring for someone with a mental illness. Mental Health and Palliative Care Services can work together to best meet the needs of people requiring palliative care and their families

Read more on CareSearch website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo