October 23, 2012

What is the best disease from which to die?

One doctor votes for a heart attack

it’s now almost universally accepted that we should exercise regularly, not smoke, drink only in moderation (if at all), avoid too much fat in our diet (and now probably too much carbohydrate), and not gain too much weight as we age.

Even a quick perusal of this admittedly incomplete list of healthy behaviors reveals that most of the actions within our control aim at reducing our risk of death from heart disease. Certainly, we’re lucky that we have so many ways to reduce this risk as heart disease remains the number one cause of death worldwide. But here’s a strange paradox: as we’ve gotten better at preventing death from heart disease, we’ve increased our exposure to the risk of death from other diseases that kill far less quickly and that arguably end up causing far more suffering. The older we get, the more likely we are to become ill with diseases like cancer, dementia, and stroke, to name just three of the most common illnesses that preferentially affect the elderly.
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Having watched so many patients die unpleasant and lingering deaths, I have little doubt that death from heart disease is better than death from many other maladies. Yet an early death from heart disease seems equally undesirable. Which has led to another uncomfortable paradox: all the work we’re encouraged to do to minimize our risk of death from heart disease actually increases our risk of having an unpleasant death.
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What, then, is the best disease from which to die? Unfortunately, the one we’re the best at preventing.
Posted by Jill Fallon at October 23, 2012 11:02 AM | Permalink