U.S. Health Initiative to Target Inherited Diseases by Mapping Family Health Histories

A new initiative by the Department of Health and Human Services is assisting Americans in gathering their family health history.

“Family history can be a window into a person’s genome,” said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, one of the 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, and a leader of the now-completed Human Genome Project. “In the future, tests resulting from the Human Genome Project will make it possible to identify the glitches we all carry in our genes, glitches that increase our susceptibility to common illnesses. Until then, tracking illnesses from one generation of a family to the next can help doctors infer the illnesses for which we are at risk, and thus enable them to create personalized disease- prevention plans.”

By documenting family health history, doctors hope to begin early treatment of those inherited diseases which can lead to debilitating illnesses. Earlier diagnoses and treatment of these diseases will be a major breakthrough in maintaining the health of millions of citizens.

The Department of Health and Human Services has made available a free computer program that will organize a family’s health history, then print out a medical record for your doctor. The new computerized tool, called “My Family Health Portrait,” can be downloaded at http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/.

The program allows users to add information as it becomes available and even diagrams individual family member’s health history.

A study soon to be released by the Center For Disease Control indicates that 96 percent of Americans believe knowing their family’s health history is important to maintaining their own health. At the same time, the survey indicates that only one-third of all Americans have tried to compile this family information.

The HHS program guides users a series of questions about each family member. Information abour common diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes is compiles. There are also areas to add health conditions not on the program’s list.

The program organizes the health information about your family’s generations and creates a diagram to help your doctor better understand your health history. Special mention is made that this information is only maintained on your own computer and never enters any central computer storage banks.

“The bottom line is that knowing your family history can save your life,” U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona recently noted. “Millions of dollars in medical research, equipment, and knowledge can’t give us the information that this simple tool can. When a health care professional is equipped with a patient’s family health history, he or she can easily assess the inherent risk factors and begin tests or treatment even before any disease is evident.”

For those wishing to get a print version of this program, contact the Federal Citizen Information Center at 1-888-8-PUEBLO (1-888-878-3256); write to: “My Family Health Portrait,” Pueblo, CO 81009.

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