Taking care of yourself is risky business

Understanding risk, and how it is presented, can help you make better decisions about your health.

Are you a risk taker? Even if you think of yourself as the cautious type, you take risks more often than you realize. We don't mean the really dangerous stuff, like skydiving or snake handling. We're talking about the smaller risks you take each day without thinking about them — driving a car, using a statin to lower your cholesterol, living with a pacemaker, or choosing to have one of those heart scans you heard advertised on the radio.

Proven, well-documented medical therapies or prevention strategies offer benefits that range from living longer to getting rid of pain and plain old feeling better. At the same time, almost every one also carries a risk of less desirable side effects. Many of these potential drawbacks are minor or aggravating, though some are major, even deadly. The trick is to choose the tactics with the greatest benefit and the least risk.

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