Word of the Week: Heritable

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Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell

Each week, Verywell explains a term from health, medicine, science, or technology.

Word of the Week: Heritable

How to say it: Heritable (hair-it-ah-bull)

What it means: Something—like a condition or trait—that can be passed on from one generation to another.

Where it comes fromThe French heriter, which means “to make an heir.”

An illustration of two people, male and female, standing in front of a portrait of their older relatives.


Where you might see or hear it: If you’ve ever been curious about your genetic risk for certain traits, diseases, and even preferences, you are familiar with the concept of something being “hereditary.”

At your regular health check-up, your doctor might ask you if anyone in your immediate family—such as your parents and siblings—has heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is caused by many risk factors, but genetics play a role.

Your doctor may describe heart disease risk as being heritable. They might explain that while you cannot do anything about your DNA, you can make lifestyle changes to support heart health and possibly reduce your risk of developing the condition.

When you might want to use itTaking a family medical history is a great preventive step for your health. Together, you can make a list of conditions that “run in your family” (are heritable), which might include diabetes, breast cancer, glaucoma, arthritis, as well as mental health conditions like depression.

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