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April 5, 1985

News of Risk as a Potential Stressor

Author Affiliations

University of California San Francisco

JAMA. 1985;253(13):1929. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03350370125038

Medicine now takes aim at prevention of disease by early recognition of risk factors. While increased knowledge of dispositions to disorder may permit early intervention, it surely facilitates early diagnosis. Yet even these advances in knwoledge carry potential hazards for the patient. Informing a person that he is at higher than usual risk for serious illness, or perhaps premature death, may set loose a train of thought and emotions that could, in some, culminate in a stress response syndrome.

Serious news of risk is incongruent with the current world view of an individual. Many persons regard themselves as invulnerable to illness and death, believing that such events only strike others. This usually unconscious and self-benevolent form of denial may be shattered when a physician informs a patient, on routine physical examination, that his or her blood pressure is dangerously elevated, that a painless mass may be cancerous, or that a