Scare tactics

"You're a walking time bomb."

"I can't be responsible for what happens to you."

"Your blockage is in the artery called the 'widow-maker.'"

Familiar lines? These are the well-rehearsed warnings commonly used by cardiologists to persuade a patient to undergo a procedure (heart catheterization and all that follow).

Something happens when you hear these words about your health. Most people's resolve to explore alternatives, get another opinion, think it over, promptly crumbles when they hear these words. These particular warnings have been time-tested and are surprisingly effective.

Unlike many other conditions, heart disease does indeed result in catastrophic events without warning. Unlike, say, cancer, heart disease can wreak damage suddenly. That's all true.

What bothers me is the vigor with which the opportunity for hospital procedures is pursued.

The thinking is that hospitals procedures = saving a life. In the vast majority of people, this is nonsense. Procedures like heart catheterization, stents, bypass, do save lives if someone is in the throes of a catastrophe. The problem is that most people who undergo procedures are not in the midst of catastrophe and have every hope of avoiding it altogether with some simple efforts towards prevention.

Imagine this conversation: "Yes, Mr. Smith, you do have heart disease, Even though you have no symptoms and your stress test is normal, I believe that we should 1) identify the causes of your heart disease, then 2) correct them. Of course, if you don't want to engage in this prevention process, then there may be a point at which heart procedures may be necessary. But I believe that you have great hopes of avoiding them and avoiding heart attack."