Noncommunicable diseases

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, tend to be of long duration and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behaviours factors.

Chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the number one cause of death and disability in the world. The term NCDs refers to a group of conditions that are not mainly caused by an acute infection, result in long-term health consequences and often create a need for long-term treatment and care. These conditions include cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic lung illnesses. Many NCDs can be prevented by reducing common risk factors such as tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, physical inactivity and eating unhealthy diets. Many other important conditions are also considered NCDs, including injuries and mental health disorders.

  • Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally.
  • Each year, 15 million people die from a NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years; over 85% of these “premature” deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17.9 million people annually, followed by cancers (9.0 million), respiratory diseases (3.9million), and diabetes (1.6 million).
  • These 4 groups of diseases account for over 80% of all premature NCD deaths.
  • Tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets all increase the risk of dying from a NCD.
  • Detection, screening and treatment of NCDs, as well as palliative care, are key components of the response to NCDs.

Who is at risk of such diseases?

People of all age groups, regions and countries are affected by NCDs. These conditions are often associated with older age groups, but evidence shows that 15 million of all deaths attributed to NCDs occur between the ages of 30 and 69 years. Of these “premature” deaths, over 85% are estimated to occur in low- and middle-income countries. Children, adults and the elderly are all vulnerable to the risk factors contributing to NCDs, whether from unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, exposure to tobacco smoke or the harmful use of alcohol.

These diseases are driven by forces that include rapid unplanned urbanization, globalization of unhealthy lifestyles and population ageing. Unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity may show up in people as raised blood pressure, increased blood glucose, elevated blood lipids and obesity. These are called metabolic risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease, the leading NCD in terms of premature deaths

Risk factors

Modifiable behavioural risk factors

Modifiable behaviours, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol, all increase the risk of NCDs.

  • Tobacco accounts for over 7.2 million deaths every year (including from the effects of exposure to second-hand smoke), and is projected to increase markedly over the coming years
  • 4.1 million annual deaths have been attributed to excess salt/sodium intake.
  • More than half of the 3.3 million annual deaths attributable to alcohol use are from NCDs, including cancer.
  • 1.6 million deaths annually can be attributed to insufficient physical activity.

Metabolic risk factors

Metabolic risk factors contribute to four key metabolic changes that increase the risk of NCDs:

  • raised blood pressure
  • overweight/obesity
  • hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) and
  • hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood).

In terms of attributable deaths, the leading metabolic risk factor globally is elevated blood pressure (to which 19% of global deaths are attributed), followed by overweight and obesity and raised blood glucose

Publications

AHO Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases

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