We all experience bouts of ill health, but if you have a chronic health condition (something that lasts more than a year and requires ongoing medical attention) it can really impact your quality of life.
In Australia, there are eight common chronic health conditions, with 1 in 2 Australians suffering from at least one of them1. For those Australians aged over 65 years, around 3 in 5 will have two conditions1. With these statistics, it’s not surprising that around 9 in 101 deaths in Australia are associated with one (or multiple) chronic conditions. So, what are these conditions and how can you reduce your risk of developing one?
Arthritis affects around 1 in 6 Australians; that’s 3.9 million people. It is not one single disease, but a term used to describe joint pain, or joint disease. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and it can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Because it affects people in different ways, the symptoms and treatments will differ for each patient, however staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and taking precautions to protect your joints can help to prevent or manage the disease.
Asthma is a disease which causes inflammation of the airways of the lungs. It is very common in Australia, with around 11% of the population suffering from the condition. Asthma can cause respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. Once diagnosed, a clear asthma management plan should be established to help you manage the disease and control asthma symptoms. Could it be asthma?
Affecting people of all ages, back pain is very common. In most cases it improves over a few days, however, for some people (around 16% of the population) it can continue for a long period and adversely affect their day to day life. Several things can cause back pain including poor posture, a sudden movement or fall, an injury or a medical condition. The pain is usually related to the way the bones, discs, tendons, muscles and ligaments work together. Because of this, slow gentle movement is encouraged rather staying still and avoiding movement all together.
Cancer is the term used to describe a collection of cells which are growing abnormally. There are many different types of cancer (in fact, it refers to over 100 different diseases), and they affect different people in different ways. At its current rate, one in two Australians are diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Self-checks (including skin checks, and breast checks) are recommended, and if you notice any sudden changes in your body or if something just doesn’t feel right, then it is always a good idea to see your GP. Catching any changes early gives you a better chance of effectively treating the disease.
Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, is the term used for a range of conditions that affect your heart. These include blood vessel diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems and congenital heart defects. It is estimated that around 1.2 million Australians have one or more conditions relating to heart disease. By increasing your exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet, you can minimise the risk of cardiovascular disease and suffering a heart attack.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the collective term for a number of lung diseases that prevent proper breathing. These include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma. The disease affects around 1 in 20 people and is most often caused by smoking. Once developed, there is no cure, however proper management of the disease can slow the progression and relieve symptoms.
Around 20% of Australians will experience a mental illness, and most of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives (in fact, the Coronavirus Pandemic and changes to our routine have been a challenge for many). Mental illness refers to a group of illnesses which can affect the way we feel, think, behave and interact with others. This can include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders and eating disorders. Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common, and at its most extreme, people with a depressive disorder may not be able to get out of bed or care for themselves physically.
Building up mental resilience can help improve mental wellbeing, and can be helped by regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption, and maintaining healthy relationships. Learn more about mental resilience.
People with diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin, or can’t effectively use the insulin they make. In Australia, there are around 1.35 million people with the disease, but there are a few different types. The three most common types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes. The good news is that for Type 2 there is strong evidence that changes to lifestyle factors can prevent the disease in up to 58 per cent of cases. The main diabetes prevention techniques include maintaining a healthy weight, undertaking regular physical activity, making healthy food choices, managing blood pressure and cholesterol and not smoking.
Risk factors across all these diseases fall into two main groups: ones you can change and ones you can’t change. Your age, gender and the genetics you have inherited are not things you can change, but some of the things you can do to be proactive about your health include:
With many of the risk factors common across different chronic diseases, leading a healthy lifestyle is your best chance of avoiding these chronic diseases. If you are concerned about any of the diseases above, please speak with your GP or health practitioner.
1 Australian Government Department of Health, Chronic Conditions in Australia, https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/chronic-conditions/chronic-conditions-in-australia (accessed September 2020)
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