Noncommunicable diseases – NCDs
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, tend to be of long duration and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behaviors factors.
The main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.
NCDs disproportionately affect people in low and middle-income countries where more than three-quarters of global NCD deaths 32million occur.
Who is at risk of Noncommunicable diseases?
People of all age groups, regions and countries are affected by NCDs. These conditions are often associated with older age groups, but evidence shows that 15 million of all deaths attributed to NCDs occur between the ages of 30 and 69 years. Of these “premature” deaths, over 85% are estimated to occur in low- and middle-income countries. Children, adults and the elderly are all vulnerable to the risk factors contributing to NCDs, whether from unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, exposure to tobacco smoke or the harmful use of alcohol.
These diseases are driven by forces that include rapid unplanned urbanization, globalization of unhealthy lifestyles and population aging. Unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity may show up in people as raised blood pressure, increased blood glucose, elevated blood lipids and obesity. These are called metabolic risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease, the leading NCD in terms of premature deaths.
What are the risk factors contributing to NCDs?
Behavioral risk factors
Modifiable behaviors, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol, all increase the risk of NCDs.
- Tobacco accounts for over 7.2 million deaths every year (including from the effects of exposure to second-hand smoke) and is projected to increase markedly over the coming years.
- 4.1 million annual deaths have been attributed to excess salt/sodium intake.
- More than half of the 3.3 million annual deaths attributable to alcohol use are from NCDs, including cancer.
- 1.6 million deaths annually can be attributed to insufficient physical activity.
Metabolic risk factors
Metabolic risk factors contribute to four key metabolic changes that increase the risk of NCDs:
- raised blood pressure
- hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) and
- hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood).
In terms of attributable deaths, the leading metabolic risk factor globally is elevated blood pressure (to which 19% of global deaths are attributed), followed by overweight and obesity and raised blood glucose.
What are the most common noncommunicable diseases?
Some noncommunicable diseases are more common than others. The four main types of noncommunicable diseases include cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.
1. Cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of noncommunicable disease deaths. Some common noncommunicable cardiovascular conditions and diseases include:
- heart attack
- coronary artery disease
- cerebrovascular disease
- peripheral artery disease (PAD)
- congenital heart disease
- deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism
Cancer affects people of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, genders, and ethnicities. It’s the second-most-common cause of noncommunicable disease death globally. Some cancers cannot be avoided due to genetic risks. However, the World Health Organization estimates that 30 to 50 percent of cancers are preventable with the adoption of healthy lifestyle choices.
The most common cancer deaths in men worldwide include:
The most common cancer deaths in women worldwide include:
3. Chronic respiratory disease
Chronic respiratory diseases are ailments affecting the airways and lung structures. Some of these diseases have a genetic basis.
However, other causes include lifestyle choices such as smoking and environmental conditions like exposure to air pollution, poor air quality, and poor ventilation.
While these diseases are incurable, they can be managed with medical treatment. The most common chronic respiratory diseases include:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- occupational lung diseases, such as black lung
- pulmonary hypertension
- cystic fibrosis
Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar (glucose). It can also occur when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.
Some effects of diabetes include heart disease, vision loss, and kidney injury. If blood sugar levels are not controlled, diabetes can seriously damage other organs and systems in the body over time.
How to prevent Noncommunicable diseases?
Certain conditions, called metabolic risk factors, can lead to metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is linked to heart disease and diabetes. These conditions include:
- raised blood pressure: 130/85 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher for either number or both
- HDL (“good cholesterol”): less than 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) in men; less than 50 mg/dL in women
- triglycerides: of 150 mg/dL or higher
- fasting blood glucose levels: 100 mg/dL or higher
- waist size: over 35 inches in women; over 40 inches in men
A person with these risk factors should address them through medical treatment and lifestyle modifications to lower the risks of developing a noncommunicable disease.
Risk factors a person can’t change include age, gender, race, and family history.
While noncommunicable diseases are long-term conditions that often can reduce one’s life expectancy, they can be managed with medical treatment and lifestyle changes.
If you are diagnosed with a noncommunicable disease, it’s important to stick to your treatment plan to ensure you stay as healthy as possible.
The World Health Organization identifies noncommunicable diseases as a major public health concern and the leading cause of all deaths worldwide.
Many risks of noncommunicable diseases are preventable. These risk factors include:
- physical inactivity
- tobacco use
- alcohol use
- unhealthy diet (high in fat, processed sugar, and sodium, with little intake of fruits and vegetables)
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