The Top 5 Deadly Diseases and How to Prevent Them
Ischemic Heart Disease - the biggest killer
The Top 5 Deadly Diseases
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Lung Cancer
- Alzheimer's Disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
1. Ischemic Heart Disease
Also known as coronary heart disease, or coronary artery disease, ischemic heart disease is the narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle. The blood vessels narrow and harden due to a build-up of fatty plaques, which deposit on the vessel walls. When the blood vessels become too narrow for blood to pass through, this interrupts the blood supply to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. Ischemic heart disease is the biggest killer in high-income countries.
There is much that can be done to prevent ischemic heart disease, including the following:
- Quit smoking.
- Eat a healthy diet. Aim for a low-fat, high-fibre diet including fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid foods high in saturated fat.
- Avoid too much sugar. This may lead to the development of diabetes, which increases the risk of developing ischemic heart disease.
- Take part in regular exercise. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in most days of the week.
- Drink alcohol within the recommended guideline limits.
- Control your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you are at increased risk of developing ischemic heart disease therefore it is important to control your blood pressure with diet, exercise, and medication where necessary.
Control blood pressure to prevent disease
A stroke is a neurological condition where normal blood flow to the brain stops. The brain cells become deprived of oxygen, which causes them to rapidly die. There are two types of stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot stops the flow of blood to the brain; whereas a haemorrhagic stroke occurs when there is an intracranial bleed (bleeding within the brain). Stroke is deadly, and those who survive a stroke are often left with some degree of permanent disability. There many ways you can reduce your chances of ever having a stroke including the following:
- If you have had a “mini stroke”, otherwise known as a transient ischemic attack – you must get proper medical treatment for this, as this is the biggest risk factor for another stroke. You can reduce your risk of a stroke by taking any medication as prescribed by your doctor and following any other recommendations.
- The main risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. Controlling high blood pressure, aiming for a blood pressure of 120/80 helps to reduce stoke risk. Blood pressure readings consistently above 140/90 are associated with a greater risk of stroke.
- Quit smoking. Smokers are twice as likely to experience a stroke compared to non-smokers. Visit Smokefree.gov for information on how to quit smoking today.
- Reduce high cholesterol. Having high cholesterol levels leads to the build-up of plaques that can clog the arteries, potentially obstructing blood flow to the brain and therefore increasing risk of stroke. Try to eat foods low in saturated fats, including vegetables, fruit, lean meats and low fat dairy products. If necessary, medication may be required if dietary measures alone fail to reduce cholesterol levels.
- Control diabetes. Having diabetes increases the risk of a having a stroke, so effective management of the condition is necessary. Controlling your blood sugar levels to targets determined by your doctor is very important.
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Being overweight is usually associated with complications such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes which all increase the risk of stroke. Losing weight via dietary modification, physical activity and alcohol intake reduction can all contribute to reducing the risk of stroke.
A healthy diet - essential for preventing illness
3. Lung Cancer
Lung cancer occurs when cells in one or both lungs begin to grow in an abnormal and uncontrollable way. There are some ways to help prevent lung cancer including the following:
- Quit smoking. This is the best way to prevent lung cancer, as people who smoke are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer compared to those who have never smoked. The younger you were when you started smoking and the more cigarettes you smoke per day, the greater your risk of developing cancer. Once you stop smoking, your risk of developing cancer starts to decrease.
- Live and work in a safe environment. Environment pollutants such as arsenic, radon, asbestos and diesel exhaust exposure are risk factors for developing lung cancer.
- Passive smoking is also a risk factor for developing lung cancer so avoid second-hand smoke where possible.
Keep Your Brain Active
4. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia-Related illness
Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia, a progressive disease whereby a person loses their ability to perform activities of daily living. People lose their memory, cognitive function is lost and behaviour changes occur. People will eventually need complete nursing care as the disease progresses as they can no longer care for themselves. Death usually occurs due to organ failure or an infection in the final stages of the disease.
Whilst there are many ways to prevent heart disease, stroke and some cancers, unfortunately there is no solid evidence to suggest there is any way to prevent the development of dementia. However, the following may be helpful although more research is needed in this area:
- Keep your brain active. Do mentally stimulating activities such as puzzles and brain training games
- Be physically and socially active, this may delay dementia onset and reduce its symptoms.
- Quit smoking. Some studies indicate this may increase the risk of dementia and other blood vessel conditions.
- Control blood pressure
- Undertake educational activities. This may help your brain develop a strong “nerve cell network” which can compensate (temporarily) for the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids.
Prevention of Deadly Diseases
Do dietary changes prevent this disease?
Does regular exercise prevent this disease?
Does quitting smoking prevent this disease?
Ischemic Heart Disease
5. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a long term condition that blocks the passage of air to the lungs. It generally occurs as a combination of two conditions, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is a condition where the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs become damaged, making it extremely difficult to breathe in and out. Chronic bronchitis occurs when there is ongoing inflammation of the bronchi (airways) , causing narrowing of the airways leading to breathing difficulties. It is a progressive condition with no cure, with breathing becoming increasingly difficult as the disease progresses. To prevent COPD, consider the following:
- Don’t smoke/Quit smoking. Most cases of COPD are caused by long term smoking. Although nothing can be done to reverse the damage that has been done, stopping smoking can delay or slow the disease progression.
- Avoid lung irritants that can contribute to COPD. Eg secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust
- If you have COPD, ensure you are up to date with your flu vaccination, pneumococcal vaccination and pertussis vaccination. These will help protect you against developing a serious complication from these illnesses.
These five diseases represent the top 5 causes of death in high income countries (COPD is equal 5th place with lower respiratory tract infections). As you have read, these conditions are preventable to a great extent if appropriate lifestyle changes are made. Prevention of disease is better than any cure where possible. Only time will tell if society can become any better at taking measures to prevent these diseases. If you think you are at risk of any medical problem or have any health concerns, always discuss it with your doctor.
What measures have your taken to improve your health?
Quit Smoking - an effective way to reduce risk
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.