Any risk can seem too big if you think it could affect you or someone you care about. This is why people interpret risk differently. Even a one-in-a-million risk may feel important if you believe you could be that one in a million.
If we feel there is a benefit in a choice we make, the risk may seem more acceptable. For example, we may be more willing to accept severe nausea with a life-saving cancer medicine.
When you feel in control of something—like when you are the driver of a car instead of a passenger—the risk may seem to be less than when you are not in control. When patients choose their treatment together with their healthcare team, they may feel more in control of managing their health.
Some diseases may make you feel more afraid than others. For example, cancer often seems scarier than heart disease. But heart disease is a more common cause of death than cancer overall.
A new and unknown risk may seem more alarming than one you are already familiar with. For example, you may find "bird flu" more worrying than the yearly flu even though “bird flu” is less common.
People often believe that “natural” things are fairly safe. Products that are marketed as “natural” alternatives to prescription medicines may be viewed as safe, but often they have not been approved by regulatory authorities like the FDA to treat or prevent illness. They may also have risks like side effects and can interact with other medicines. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions or concerns you may have about your medicines.
It is a powerful instinct to protect children from danger. Most of us believe that children should not face the same risks adults do and should be kept safe from more and less common risks.
The less we trust the people or organizations that are supposed to reduce risk, like regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical companies, the more concern we may feel. It is important to ask questions, know where to find information, and work with your healthcare team to make informed decisions when facing risk.
When something raises our awareness about a risk, like a story in the news, it may raise our level of concern.
Health literacy is a measure of a person’s ability and motivation to get, understand, and use basic health information and services in order to make good choices about their health. To learn more, click here.