Chronic Diseases: the Silent Killers

Introduction

Chronic diseases, also known as noncommunicable diseases or lifestyle diseases, are the leading killers and cause an unacceptable number of people to die prematurely and often after years of needless suffering and disability. Is obesity a disease? Unfortunately, this trend is increasing at a rapid pace. As per the WHO data, while in the year 2005, 60% of total deaths globally (35 million out of estimated 58 million deaths) were on account of these diseases, in the year 2012 this number jumped to 68% (38 million out of 56 million deaths) and in 2015 this figure increased to 70%. This is more than double the number of deaths from all infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria), maternal and perinatal (relating to the time immediately before and after a birth) conditions, and nutritional deficiencies combined. More than 40% of these (16 million) were premature deaths under the age of 70 years. Lifestyle diseases: the biggest man-made disaster.

Impact of Chronic Diseases

These conditions not only cause premature deaths, and enormous suffering, severely impacting the quality of life, but also threaten the economy of a country and reduce developmental potential.

Causes of Chronic Diseases

The causes (risk factors) of chronic diseases are a small set of common risk factors which cause most of the main chronic diseases and these risk factors are the same in men and women and in all regions of the world. The most important risk factors are related to seemingly inconsequential lifestyle choices we make every day and include – an unhealthy diet and energy intake in excess of individual requirement, physical inactivity, and tobacco use. Other risk factors include – harmful use of alcohol, infectious agents that are responsible for cervical and liver cancers, air pollution and psycho-social factors. Being related to our lifestyle, all these factors are modifiable; however, some non-modifiable risk factors like age and heredity also play a role.

Underlying causes of chronic diseases - globalisation, urbanisation, industrialisation and population ageing
Underlying causes of chronic diseases and their interactions.

What is Health?

The goal of modern medicine is no longer merely the treatment of sickness. Even WHO has defined health as follows: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity.”

What are the other dimensions of health?

In addition to the physical, mental and social dimensions, other dimensions viz. spiritual, emotional, vocational and even political dimension, have come to be recognised as ones which have a significant impact on health and well-being.

Management of Chronic diseases

Since there are no specific cures for these lifestyle diseases – they can only be prevented; the prevention of these diseases will be the essence to achieve holistic health. Inexpensive and cost-effective means to prevent lifestyle diseases already exist. The major causes of lifestyle diseases are known and if the risk factors are eliminated, at least 80% of all heart diseases, stroke, and type 2 diabetes would be prevented; over 40% of cancer would be prevented. Rapid commercialization of the ‘Wellness industry’.

Conclusion

Life is NOT merely living BUT living in health. In the Chinese system of medicine, “the great doctor is one who treats not someone who is already ill but someone not yet ill.” By getting to the root cause(s) of illness, holistic health approach goes beyond merely eliminating symptoms. Holistic health is actually a way of life. Holistic Health Approaches: the Way to Wellness.

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