Your family history includes health information about you and your close relatives. Family history is an important risk factor for problems like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. The reason a family history can help predict risk is that families share their genes, as well as other factors that affect health, like environment, lifestyles and habits.
Having a family member with a disease raises your risk, but it does not mean that you will definitely get it. Realizing that you are at risk gives you a chance to reduce that risk by following a healthier lifestyle and getting tested as needed.
You can get started by talking to your relatives about their health. Draw a family tree and add the health information. Having copies of medical records and death certificates is also helpful.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)