Everyone over 60 is suffering this disease – we just don't know it

No matter how healthy you are, you are most likely the victim of a new disease that’s spreading like wildfire.

Everywhere you turn you see someone suffering from it – or not suffering, as the case may be.

This new and highly contagious disease is… risk.

There are various forms to the disease: risk of heart attack, risk of stroke, risk of diabetes, risk of cancer. The list goes on.

Symptoms of risk are many and varied, but include: getting older, living and breathing, eating too much or not enough of anything and everything (sometimes both too much and too little of the same food), exercising too much, not exercising enough and probably doing the wrong exercises anyway.

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Doctors take risk very seriously, which is why they are compelled to say things like “you might want to think about losing weight”.

They also like to prescribe drugs or treatments for other diseases (such as osteoporosis or heart disease) even when you don’t technically have that disease.

According to one doctor, a Scandinavian fellow who is quite passionate about this issue, patients (that’s us) get treated for nearly-diseases.

He says being considered “high risk” of having a disease has itself become the new epidemic.

Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Professor Teppo Järvinen, from the University of Helsinki, says that otherwise healthy people are being turned into patients because they are deemed to have “high” blood pressure or “low” bone density.

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“But what represents ‘high risk’?” he asks. “This question lies at the heart of modern medicine, particularly with respect to pharmacological primary prevention.”

As an orthopaediac surgeon Professor Järvinen draws on his own experience in the field. He recalls that doctors worldwide began “prescribing enthusiastically” an osteoporosis drug that increased the probability of avoiding a hip fracture from 97.9 per cent to 98.9 per cent, the Medical Observer reports. That’s a 1 per cent increase, but he argues the response was disproportionate.

In the US, osteoporosis guidelines recommend medication if a person’s 10-year probability of sustaining a hip fracture is 3 per cent or more, this would mean that more than 70 per cent of women over 65 should be taking osteoporosis drugs, with 93 per cent of all over-75s needing drug therapy.

The same goes for cholesterol. “The new cholesterol guideline similarly colonises virtually the entire elderly population into the realm ‘sick’,” he writes.

According to research, we patients believe that taking a daily pill to reduce our risk of a heart attack will improve our chances by 20 per cent, when these treatments don’t actually deliver such large statistical benefits.

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The message Professor Järvinen wants to get across is that we’re all making ourselves sick with risk. He says both doctors and patients need to better understand the concept of risk and how it related to their situation, otherwise “pharmacological primary prevention becomes a tyranny of eminence”.

Those are strong words that basically mean we need to ask first before blithely accepting a prescription and dutifully getting it filled.

But that’s easier said than done when the risk of ignoring your risk is, well, very risky. Who wants to to be thinking “damn, I should have cut back on the bacon and taken those pills” as they’re mid heart-attack?

Are you suffering from risk? How do you manage your symptoms? Have you ever said “thanks but no thanks” to a prescription from your doctor?