It is argued that potential risk, understood as the possibility of occurrence of an event, is the most adequate definition of risk for Health Surveillance. This integrative review analyzes the definitions of risk and identifies the purposes of using potential risk within the scope of Health Surveillance. Searches were carried out on a legislation database and on four other databases. A theory and a typology of risk supported the categorization. 14 normative acts and 20 articles were selected. The 70 definitions of risk were grouped into categories: probability of an event; probability and scenarios, consequences or severity of these; uncertainty; possibility of loss; event or consequence and uncertainty about the objectives. The limitations of some definitions were pointed out, such as the difficulty of calculating the probability of events. There are divergences between articles and normative acts regarding the terminology adopted to refer to risk. The definitions are composed of diverse terms, which cannot always be differentiated. Only one article investigates the meanings that professionals attribute to risk. Potential risk, an expression that has different definitions in Brazil and Russia, is used mainly to standardize risk assessment. A convergent effort is needed to intensify the use of the Brazilian theoretical definition attributed to potential risk and to minimize the variety of terms used in the definitions of risk.
Keywords: Health Surveillance, Review, Risk, Risk Management.