Family history: a comprehensive genetic risk assessment method for the chronic conditions of adulthood

Am J Med Genet. 1997 Aug 22;71(3):315-24. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1096-8628(19970822)71:3<315::aid-ajmg12>;2-n.


Targeting individuals with increased risk for common, chronic disease can improve the efficiency and efficacy of preventive efforts by improving the predictability of screening tests and participant compliance. Individuals with the greatest risk for these disorders are those with a genetic susceptibility. The purpose of this study was to determine the feasibility of using a single, comprehensive family history as a method for stratifying risk for many preventable, common genetic disorders. Family histories obtained in a prenatal diagnostic clinic were reviewed regarding cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and several cancers; 42.5% of individuals reported a family history for at least one of the disorders under study. Familial coronary artery disease was most commonly reported (29% of participants), followed by noninsulin-dependent diabetes (14%). Qualitative characterization of disease susceptibility was also accomplished using family history data. For example, occurrence of different cancers within pedigrees was suggestive of familial cancer syndromes, and clustering of noninsulin-dependent diabetes and cardiovascular disease suggested an insulin resistance syndrome. Depending on the specific disease, 5 to 15% of at-risk individuals had a moderately increased risk (2 to 5 times the population risk), and approximately 1 to 10% had a high risk (absolute risks approaching 50%). Family history reports of common, chronic disease are prevalent among the population at large, and collection and interpretation of comprehensive family history data is a feasible, initial method for risk stratification for many preventable, chronic conditions. These findings may have important implications for disease prevention and management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biometry
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / genetics
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / prevention & control
  • Chronic Disease
  • Coronary Disease / genetics
  • Coronary Disease / prevention & control
  • Data Collection
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Genetic Testing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / genetics
  • Hypertension / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Risk Factors