The Implication of Risk Factors
Rewritten Nov 28, 2004

In the "Good old Days" one went to a physician when one was sick. If one had a bacterial infection, chances were that one would be prescribed an antibiotic, and one went home expecting the illness to pass within a few days. If one had a viral infection, one was told to take a pain killer if necessary, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and again the expectation was that the illness would pass in a few days. Ocassionally, one was diagnosed with more severe illnesses that were harder to get rid of, and sometimes fatal.

In this era, your physician will often "give you a physical". The physical examination will involve blood (and sometimes, urine and feces) tests, measuring your weight, height and blood-pressure. It will include any data on your genetic susceptiblity - what illnesses run in your family. Typically, it will involve little, if any, "hands-on" examination.

The result of the physical will be a "risk profile" -

  1. What are your chances of getting Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) in the next 10 years.

  2. (for men) Are you at risk for prostate cancer (following a PSA test?)

  3. Does your blood-pressure indicate an increased risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)?

  4. Other risks, as indicated by various measurements and genetic factors, such as osteoporosis, cancer, and other illnesses.

Depending on your risk, your physician might suggest (or maybe insist) that you start taking some medication(s) to "reduce your risk". Sometimes, they (and especially the daily press) will use a more inflated term, and suggest that these medications "save lives" - and, of course, who doesn't want to save her or his life?

As we shall see, lives are not saved! At best, a few of the medicated people have a little longer to go until they contract the illness.

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Last Modification - Nov 28, 2004