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What Is Non-Communicable Disease?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 12, 2021

Non-communicable diseases are chronic health conditions that are not contagious to others. While a diagnosis can be scary, there are many options in treating or preventing symptoms. Learning about your condition can be the best tool in managing it.  

Understanding Non-Communicable Disease

The label of non-communicable disease describes a wide range of conditions, diseases, and disorders. These have genetic, lifestyle, or environmental causes rather than viral or bacterial, and they are characterized as health conditions that:

  • Aren’t caused by acute infections or illness
  • Result in long-term health issues
  • Require long-term treatment and care, such as lifestyle changes or medication

Health conditions that are considered non-communicable diseases include:

The severity of global impact. Non-communicable diseases are the number one cause of death and disability around the world. Worldwide statistics regarding non-communicable diseases show that:

  • Non-communicable diseases kill 41 million people worldwide on an annual basis. This accounts for 71% of all deaths globally. In the region comprised of Canada, the United States, and Central America, non-communicable diseases kill 5.5 million people annually.
  • Each year, 15 million people around the world die prematurely between the ages of 30 and 69 years old from a non-communicable disease. 
  • Cardiovascular diseases make up most non-communicable disease deaths, followed by cancer, respiratory diseases, and then diabetes. 

These four categories of disease account for more than 80% of all premature non-communicable disease deaths.

Impact of Non-Communicable Disease on Your Health

Cardiovascular diseases. These conditions affect your blood vessels and heart. They include coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Cardiovascular diseases may alter your quality of life, and left untreated can be life threatening.

Cancer. This disease happens when cells in your body mutate and begin dividing and growing. There are many different kinds of cancer that can develop anywhere in the body. Although most are determined by genetics or environmental factors, a few forms of cancer can be caused by viruses such as HPV or hepatitis.

Chronic respiratory diseases. These health conditions impact your lungs in the long term and do not usually subside. The most common chronic respiratory conditions are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Without proper treatment, these diseases may cause permanent damage to your lungs and airways.‌

Diabetes. If your body cannot regulate the levels of sugar in your blood, you may have diabetes. It is incurable, although it can be controlled. Once you receive a diabetes diagnosis, you must change your diet and maintain recommended dosages of medication to prevent the condition from worsening.

Treatment of Non-Communicable Disease

Treating non-communicable disease may look different than treating an infection, but there is a wide range of options to manage your condition. Talk to your doctor about which treatment plan may work best for you.

Cannot be cured. Keep in mind that there are no treatment options that lead to curing a non-communicable disease from your body. Instead, your doctor may prescribe medications and recommend lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms. 

Preventing and managing non-communicable diseases. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Not all non-communicable diseases are preventable, but you can lower your risk by maintaining healthy habits. The same common areas of risk can also be addressed after diagnosis to manage a condition: 

  • Tobacco use – No matter how long you’ve been a smoker, quitting improves your health.
  • Long-term alcohol use – If you drink alcohol frequently, cut back or stop drinking altogether. 
  • Lack of physical activity – Stay active and don’t spend too much time sedentary.
  • An unhealthy diet – Cut back on processed foods and make sure you get plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • High blood pressure – If you can’t manage your blood pressure on your own, talk to your doctor about medication. 
  • Obesity – Staying within a healthy weight range can have significant impacts on your overall health.
  • Low blood sugar levels – Check your levels regularly, manage your diet, and take your medications to regulate your blood sugar. 
  • High fat content in your blood – Eating fatty foods and having a sedentary lifestyle contribute to obesity and additional fat in your bloodstream.

‌You can also stay ahead of these diseases by keeping up with regular doctor visits. If you have health concerns or know of a condition that runs in your family, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. They can help narrow down what may be affecting you and complete screenings to detect chronic health conditions. 

Prevention of Non-Communicable Disease

Not all diseases have obvious causes to avoid, but it can be worthwhile to take care of the factors within your control. Along with the options for managing mentioned above, you may be able to protect yourself from developing certain conditions. 

Continued

For example, you can lower your risk for cervical cancer by:

  • Getting the HPV vaccine
  • Maintaining regular health exams to identify pre-cancer cells
  • Remembering to schedule appointments for follow up care if needed

You can also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by:

  • Talking to your doctor about any symptoms that impact your day-to-day life 
  • Managing your blood pressure
  • Maintaining a healthy diet to prevent or manage type two diabetes 

Cannot be transmitted. Non-communicable diseases are not passed from person to person. If you are diagnosed with one of these health conditions, you don’t have to worry that your family and friends will catch it from you. Some of these conditions are hereditary, meaning they can be passed down genetically, but they are not contagious.

Remember that millions of people worldwide live healthy and happy lives with these conditions. Being proactive about your health will help with every step of the way.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Kaiser Family Foundation: “The U.S. Government and Global Non-Communicable Disease Efforts.”

Pan American Health Organization: “Non-communicable Diseases.”

Population Services International: “NON-COMMUNICABLE DISEASES.”

World Health Organization: “Non-communicable diseases.”

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