What is a Health Risk Profile?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A health risk profile is a series of questions and basic medical tests, which can help determine a person’s risk for developing certain diseases or conditions. Sometimes a health risk profile is disease specific. For example, a health risk profile might determine the risk of someone developing heart disease, cancer or diabetes. At other times, a population of people may voluntarily be profiled to evaluate the risks of certain diseases specific to that population.

Harmful behaviors, such as smoking, can cause people to have greater health risks.
Harmful behaviors, such as smoking, can cause people to have greater health risks.

An overall health risk profile is often used during a regular physical. It can help physicians direct the course of treatment or give counseling about behaviors or activities that may put people at risk for developing certain kinds of conditions. Smokers may be counseled to stop smoking. People with a high Body Mass Index (BMI) may be counseled to lose weight. Behaviors are assessed against known risks for a wide number of diseases.

Even when a genetic predisposition for a condition is present, behavior changes may influence overall risk.
Even when a genetic predisposition for a condition is present, behavior changes may influence overall risk.

Generally, the more specific a health risk profile is, the more likely it will identify risk factors for conditions. A cardiac health risk profile is much more specific to determining risk factors for cardiac disease than is a more general health risk profile.

A health risk profile might determine the risk of someone developing heart disease.
A health risk profile might determine the risk of someone developing heart disease.

The health risk profile questions and basic medical tests, like measurement of blood pressure or blood tests, may change when more information is learned about the risks for a certain condition. For example, maximum healthy BMI measurements used to have a higher level when determining risks of heart disease. These measurements have been lowered as a result of further studies, indicating that even a mildly overweight person may be at increased risk for developing heart disease.

Excess smoking and drinking may cause a person to be at a high risk for some health conditions.
Excess smoking and drinking may cause a person to be at a high risk for some health conditions.

The health risk profile is not a definitive diagnostic tool, since people are individuals, and not everything about every condition is known. People with high risk factors for certain diseases may not develop them, despite suggestive profiling. Additionally, a person with a health risk profile that does not suggest likelihood of developing an illness may still develop that illness. The health risk profile can make predictions based on data, but these are not absolute or fail-safe predictions.

An overweight person is at higher risk for a number of conditions.
An overweight person is at higher risk for a number of conditions.

Even though a heath risk profile is not a definitive diagnostic method, it can still help identify people early on that might be at risk for developing certain conditions. A person in a high-risk group may be able to change risk by changing behavior. Even when a genetic predisposition for a condition is clearly understood, behavior changes may still influence overall risk.

People with a high Body Mass Index may be counseled to lose weight.
People with a high Body Mass Index may be counseled to lose weight.
A health risk profile may consist of basic medical tests, such as blood tests, to determine a patient's likelihood of acquiring a specific disease.
A health risk profile may consist of basic medical tests, such as blood tests, to determine a patient's likelihood of acquiring a specific disease.
Individuals who consume a large amount of fatty foods may be advised to make dietary changes.
Individuals who consume a large amount of fatty foods may be advised to make dietary changes.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

whiteplane

@nextcorrea - As the article points out, health risk profiles are not definitive measures of what health conditions you will develop in the future. It is simply a predictive tool. So while a doctor may be able to tell you what kind of risk you have of having a stroke, they would not be able to give you much information beyond that.

Regardless, if you are concerned I would see a doctor as soon as possible. This is even more urgent because you have a history of stroke in your family. A trained professional will be able to give you a lot of good information and may be able to suggest ways to reduce your risk of stroke moving into the future.

nextcorrea

Can a health risk profile identify stroke risk? My father had a stroke and I am desperately afraid of following in his footsteps.

Ivan83

I do not currently have health insurance and have not been to the doctor in almost a decade. In general my health is good and the lack of professional attention has not been a problem. Regardless, I try to take some simple steps to monitor some of the baseline indicators of my health. That is to say, I try to maintain my own health risk profile.

At a lot of pharmacies their is a blood pressure machine. Whenever I notice one I stop and take a reading just to be aware of how I'm doing. I donate blood and they take a reading of your cholesterol as a free courtesy. My local library has free health screenings where they track you blood sugar levels amongst other things. These are just a few examples of the way you can get free health information about yourself by trying to be a little resourceful.

summing

A health risk profile is vitally important because this allows doctors and other health care professionals to take a preventative approach to your health. During the recent debate over healthcare there was a near consensus that we could save time and significant costs by trying to promote preventative medicine.

The principle is simple. If you can anticipate the future health of a patient and the diseases they are most at risk for, you can take steps to cure or relieve the symptoms of a condition before it becomes a larger issue. So, for instance, a doctor might notice you have high cholesterol and point out the risk this poses to your heart. It is a lot easier to begin eating better and lowering your cholesterol than waiting until you have a heart attack and going through an expensive and dangerous round of treatment.

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