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A risk or risk factor?

- April 18, 2012

Many of us research health, in one form or another. Yes, there are clinical experts and scientists who research for commercial purposes and academics and healthcare practitioners who research for educational purposes. But then there’s the vast majority of us who take it upon ourselves to keep an eye on our own health – whether that’s researching family history, self diagnosing, reading resources on the management of a long term health condition or simply looking for healthy meal ideas.

Key health services such as NHS Choices – the UK’s largest health website – and NHS Direct, offer a wealth of information on just about every aspect of health.  However, navigating these vast resources can often result in confusion, or worse still, self – misdiagnosis.  Therefore, before diving in, it is imperative that you are clear on the terminology at play when it comes to firstly, identifying causes, symptoms and treatments and secondly, understanding how these realistically relate to your own health circumstances – knowing a risk vs. a risk factor.

A risk vs. a risk factor

When it comes to identifying “risks”, BestHealth, of the British Medical Journal group offers a really succinct definition:

“A risk is the chance that something (usually something bad) will happen because of something else. For example, if you smoke a packet of cigarettes a day for 30 years, you have a 10 percent risk of dying from lung cancer.”

In contrast, “risk factors”, as defined by the World Health Organisation refer to; “…any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury. Some examples of the more important risk factors are underweight, unsafe sex, high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol consumption, and unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene.”

In short, where a “risk” is primarily about measuring the likelihood of a particular event happening, a  “risk factor” refers to the specific contributing factor that increases this risk and likelihood of a negative event occurring.  For example, risk factors for cardiovascular disease include smoking, poor diet and diabetes*.  It sounds simple, but it’s the key to ensuring a realistic understanding of your health and ways to best manage it.

To learn more about the risks and risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, visit the Life Line Screening website.

*NHS Choices: Risk factors for cardiovascular disease –

About LifeLineScreening

At Life Line Screening UK, our mission is to make people aware of undetected health problems and encourage them to seek follow-up care with their GP.



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