Tackling the Underlying Factors of Non-Communicable Diseases: The Weight of Chronic Illness

The global burden of non-communicable and chronic diseases constitutes a big headache for health experts and policymakers and, of course, patients. Millions of people die from these conditions every year and many more millions are in an ongoing battle with them. They account for the bulk of the burden of disease worldwide.

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What can be done to tackle the root causes of these diseases? We talk more about these often-chronic conditions, including their types and how to control or prevent them.

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What Are Non-Communicable Diseases?

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are diseases that are not directly transmissible between persons. In other words, they do not spread from one person to another. The diseases usually result from a combination of factors, including the environment and genetics.

There are four main categories of NCDs, namely:

Non-communicable diseases are sometimes described as chronic diseases, although they could be either acute or chronic. There has been a surge in their incidence in recent years. So, they are now a serious problem for both public health and economies.

Chronic diseases worsen slowly and are usually long in their duration, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A disease is normally tagged “chronic” if it persists beyond three months. Chronic diseases, especially as related to NCDs, cannot be cured with medication or prevented with vaccines.

Other common chronic diseases include depression, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic kidney disease.

The Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases

There is hardly any country in the world that is immune to NCDs. Many older people have at least one of these conditions.

Researchers estimated in a 2018 review that around one in every three adults has multiple chronic conditions. About 60 percent of adults in the United States suffer from at least one chronic disease, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

NCDs are the leading cause of death globally. The WHO estimates that these diseases cause 41 million deaths each year – that’s about 74 percent of total global deaths. The four main types are responsible for more than 80 percent of all premature deaths linked to NCDs. Cardiovascular diseases alone account for roughly 44 percent of NCD deaths.

Non-communicable diseases are taking an increasing toll on global economies. This comes by way of absenteeism and premature deaths from conditions such as stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. A 2005 WHO report showed that India lost $9 billion and Brazil $3 billion as a result of those three disorders.

China’s national income was estimated to reduce by about $558 billion in the 10 years from 2005 because of premature deaths.

NCD Risk Factors

NCDs are sometimes referred to as “lifestyle” diseases. This is because they often occur as a result of lifestyle choices. The risk factors, in this case, include tobacco smoking, unhealthy diets, alcohol use or abuse, and lack of adequate physical activity.

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However, besides lifestyle, other factors such as the environment, genetics, behaviors, and metabolic factors can play a part. These include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Pollution
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Overweight or obesity

NCDs can affect people of all ages and gender; the risk may only differ. They have been observed to be more common among older people, although about 17 million NCD deaths happen before 70.

A Developing Problem

For a long time, NCDs were deemed somewhat as diseases of the affluent. They were thought to be more of a problem for the developed nations. This was without a doubt when they are looked at from the lifestyle perspective.

However, evidence shows that the burden of these diseases in developing countries is on the rise. According to the WHO, 77 percent of all NCD deaths (over 31 million) now occur in low and middle-income countries. A massive 86 percent of premature NCD deaths occur in these countries.

An estimate has it that two in every three persons with diabetes live in developing countries.

The surge in NCD cases in lower-income countries is a matter of some concern. This could worsen the poverty situation and cause more people to die in these places. The increasing incidence could deplete limited resources and hamper the success of poverty-reduction programs with the focus shifted to treatment. Poorer patients will more likely succumb to NCDs due to often high costs and length of treatment.

Prevention and Management

Non-communicable diseases are quite difficult to cure. They are mostly thought to be incurable. The best you can do is to try to prevent them. Thankfully, NCDs (especially lifestyle-related ones) are preventable.

Key aspects of NCD management and intervention include detection, screening, and treatment as well as palliative care.

Experts say that up to 80 percent of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes cases could be averted if their primary risk factors are properly dealt with. A 40-percent reduction in cancer cases is possible if the same is done.

There is increasing evidence showing that good nutrition can play a key role in preventing and managing NCDs, including cancer and diabetes. It could help greatly to lower the costs of treating the conditions.

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Essentially, you will need to guard against the risk factors for NCDs as the best approach for protecting yourself. Quit smoking, avoid alcohol use, maintain a healthy diet, and increase your physical activity to reduce risk. Researchers have found that these do help to control the incidence of NCDs.

Closely monitor your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. You should speak with your doctor for recommendations, including medications if there is an anomaly detected. Make your doctor your friend and visit regularly, especially if you are older than 45.

Early and proactive interventions, including screening, can reduce treatment costs and improve patients’ chances of survival. They may help to remove the need for costlier treatments down the line.

References

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases

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