Cancer, Heart Disease, Mad Cow, Oh My! Should You Worry About Scary Diseases?

Want to put your fears in their place? Here’s help: We compared your risks of developing certain illnesses this year to the odds of some quirky scenarios—and found plenty of good news.


Whats scarier than mad cow disease? Nothing, really—except illnesses that are 10 billion times more likely to hurt you. Think about it this way: Your risk of getting mad cow is much lower than your odds of winning the Powerball lottery. In short, its not likely to happen. What could happen? In her lifetime, the average woman has a 1 in 2 chance of developing osteoporosis and a 1 in 3 chance of heart disease.

“Were afraid of the new, the mysterious,” says Marc Siegel, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University Medical School who wrote False Alarm: The Truth about the Epidemic of Fear. “But were afraid of the wrong things.”

Want to put your fears in their place? Heres help: We compared your risks of developing certain illnesses this year to the odds of some quirky scenarios—and found plenty of good news. Keep in mind, too, that if you take certain measures (you know, exercise, eat right), youll change your odds ... for a lifetime.

your risk of Heart disease | 1 in 42
Odds of Condolezza Rice becoming President in 2008: 1 in 50
About 2.9 million women will be hospitalized for a heart disease–related problem this year, but the vast majority will be elderly people whose risk factors are relatively high. Many more younger people will dutifully lower their risks because heart disease is one of the most preventable ailments on the planet. “The key is lifestyle,” says Lynne M. Kirk, past president of the American College of Physicians.
Real-world advice: Hit the gym; walk; load up on fruit, vegetables, and fiber; and quit smoking (or dont start). These simple acts are enough to lower your risk by a factor of six. Caveat: If you blow them off, your risks will go up fast as you age. The lifetime risk for the average 40-year-old woman (the one who needs to lose weight, exercise more, and eat better) is higher than 1 in 2! For more on keeping your heart healthy, go to Health.com/heart.


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Laurel Naversen Geraghty
Last Updated: March 20, 2008

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