What does it mean if a disorder seems to run in my family?

A particular disorder might be described as “running in a family” if more than one person in the family has the condition. Some disorders that affect multiple family members are caused by gene mutations, which can be inherited (passed down from parent to child). Other conditions that appear to run in families are not caused by mutations in single genes. Instead, environmental factors such as dietary habits or a combination of genetic and environmental factors are responsible for these disorders.

It is not always easy to determine whether a condition in a family is inherited. A genetics professional can use a person’s family history (a record of health information about a person’s immediate and extended family) to help determine whether a disorder has a genetic component. He or she will ask about the health of people from several generations of the family, usually first-, second-, and third-degree relatives.

Degrees of relationship
Degrees of relationshipExamples
First-degree relativesParents, children, brothers, and sisters
Second-degree relativesGrandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren
Third-degree relativesFirst cousins

This condition affects members in each generation of a family.

This condition affects members in each generation of a family.
Credit: U.S. National Library of Medicine