OH-Blog Logo
Adult son holding hands with his mother

Does it Run in the Family? Hereditary Conditions Explained

Six common health conditions that may be inherited

Some inherited traits are obvious — like your mother’s bright-blue eyes or your father’s dimples. But some health conditions have a surprising genetic component that you may not be aware of. Here are six common health conditions that run in the family, and how you can work with your doctor on effective treatment plans.


One in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to Nichole Morman, MS, LGC, lead genetic counselor at OhioHealth. “This most often occurs by chance and may or may not be associated with certain risk factors,” she explains. “However, approximately 5 to 10 percent of cancers are hereditary, meaning that the individual has a gene mutation (change) that causes a significantly higher chance of developing certain types of cancer.”

Hereditary cancers present themselves differently. What to look for, she says: earlier age at diagnosis (under age 50), multiple relatives with the same or related types of cancer in several generations, more than one cancer in a single individual, a rare cancer diagnosed in an individual, and cancer diagnosed in individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds (e.g., Ashkenazi Jewish).

If cancer runs in your family you should:

  • Discuss your family history with your physicians.
  • Ask your relatives with cancer if they have had genetic counseling and testing.
  • Consider genetic counseling and potential testing for yourself to determine your risk to develop cancer.
  • Learn about ways to reduce your risk of developing cancer and modifications you can make to your cancer screening (e.g., start screening at a younger age, screen more often, consider screening methods beyond what the more general population is advised to use).


The dry, red patches that are telltale signs of eczema can be uncomfortable and itchy. More than 30 million Americans, of all ages, suffer from it, but it can be managed so it doesn’t interfere with everyday life. While the actual genetic cause is unclear, there is an increased likelihood that you will have eczema when one or both of your parents did.


If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know all too well the intense throbbing pain, nausea and sensitivity to light associated with this debilitating condition. The most common type of genetic migraines is familial hemiplegic migraines, which are characterized by visual changes such as blind spots or double vision. Your doctor will likely ask you to undergo genetic testing if he or she believes you could have familial hemiplegic migraines, which can be treated with medications.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Often diagnosed in people ages 60 and older, Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 210,000 Ohioans. “In most cases, Alzheimer’s disease is likely due to a combination of minor genetic changes, environmental factors and lifestyle factors,” Morman says. The genetic factors most commonly include the APOE gene; individuals with the APOE-e4 version of the gene — found in 20 to 25 percent of people — have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s. “These gene mutations are usually passed from parent to child in an autosomal dominant manner, meaning there is a 50 percent chance to pass on the gene mutation to the next generation,” Morman says.

“The main difference between hereditary Alzheimer’s disease and most cases of Alzheimer’s disease is the age of onset,” Morman explains, noting diagnosis usually occurs between ages 30 and 60.

If early-onset Alzheimer’s disease runs in your family you should:

  • Discuss your family history with your physicians.
  • Ask your relatives if they’ve had genetic counseling and testing for hereditary forms of Alzheimer’s disease. If a hereditary cause has been identified, consider genetic counseling and testing yourself.

Mental Illness

More than 1 in 5 Americans currently have some form of a mental illness. If you have a blood relative who also suffered from conditions such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, your likelihood of developing one of these conditions increases. Don’t ever be embarrassed or ashamed of your mental illness — treatment is key to living and thriving with your condition. Untreated mental illness can cause debilitating and serious consequences if not identified and treated.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

If you have bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation that is ongoing for longer than six months without any known physical cause, you likely have the common condition known as IBS. The symptoms associated with IBS can be both socially limiting and painful. Talk to your doctor about ways to control your symptoms, such as stress management or exercise. If your symptoms don’t improve with conservative treatment, your doctor could recommend medication.

Learn how to avoid illness with all of our best prevention advice.