Monday, May 01, 2006

Exploding the myths of chronic disease

With recent advances in medical care, the good news is that we're all living longer.

The flip side is that we're all more likely, at some stage in our life, to experience a chronic health condition such as cancer, renal disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or hypertension.

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Preventing Chronic Disease is a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which projected that, by 2005, chronic illness would be responsible for approximately 50% of the global burden of disease worldwide, as measured in terms of years of healthy life lost due to disability and premature mortality.

The physical, psychological and economic costs associated with chronic disease are considerable.

Yes. It's a big deal and, contrary to what we might expect, it's a problem that is becoming an issue even in the least developed countries of the world.

The report makes great reading for anyone wishing to get a greater understanding of the potential impact of chronic disease.

One of the more interesting sections explodes some of the commonly held beliefs about chronic disease. I've listed them briefly below but the document goes into greater detail and incorporates case studies.

Chronic disease only occurs in higher income countries.

Wrong. Chronic disease is a world-wide epidemic. Four out of five deaths related to chronic illness occur in middle or lower income countries.

The focus of health care in middle and lower income countries should be on controlling infectious disease.

While this remains important, the rapid increase of chronic disease risk needs to be challenged now to minimise future burden.

Chronic disease mainly affects rich people.

In most countries, it is the poor who are at greatest risk. Poorer access to health care means less exposure to prevention and management strategies.

Chronic disease mainly affects the elderly.

Almost half of chronic disease deaths occur in people under the age of seventy.

Chronic diseases mainly affect men.

A common misconception. Chronic diseases, including heart disease, equally affect men and women.

Chronic diseases result from an unhealthy lifestyle.

A commonly held belief is that the individual who suffers from a chronic disease has only themself to blame. While in some cases, risk factors for chronic disease can be avoided, not everyone has equitable access to factors underlying a healthy lifestyle or is equally supported to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Chronic disease cannot be prevented

The major causes of many chronic diseases are well documented. If risk factors are eliminated, the report estimates that 80% of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes and 50% of cancer cases could be prevented.

Prevention or control of chronic disease is too expensive

The truth is there are a number of interactions that have proved both effective and inexpensive to implement.

Everyone has to die of something.

True. We do. However, as the report suggests, it need not be a slow, painful or premature process.


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

The WHO statistic of 50% is frightening! Great post. Have you found the Medical Blog Network yet? If not, you should join and post things like this there.


healthpsych said...

Hi Deborah,
It IS scary, isn't it? I also never really thought of chronic disease in relation to lesser developed countries too. Thanks for your comment!

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