When we think of the “deadliest diseases”, we might be inclined to imagine the ones with visually severe symptoms that grab the headlines for their rapid spread and lives lost.
On the contrary, many of the diseases that have those characteristics don’t kill as many people as we believe, not even ranking among the top 10 causes of deaths worldwide.
It turns out that the deadliest diseases are those with a slow progression.
Of the 56.4 million deaths in 2015,68% was due to long-term chronic conditions.
Unlike the diseases with a rapid spread and disastrous consequences, the deadly diseases that progress slowly can be monitored and controlled.
With the right diagnosis, preventive care and advice from healthcare providers, patients can take steps to lower their risk of fatal consequences.
Here are the remaining five of the top 10 diseases that kill the most people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):
Also read: Top 10 deadliest diseases in the world (No.1-5)
Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to process food and sugar that enters the bloodstream properly, causing a toxic buildup in the blood.
This is due to inadequate amounts of the insulin hormone.
Type 1 diabetes affects patients at a young age, where the pancreas is unable to produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in adults, where either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body has become resistant to insulin.
If not properly controlled, patients die from complications due to diabetes.
Diabetes is not reversible unless you catch it in the early stages – you can only manage the symptoms and make lifestyle changes.
Check in with your doctor every few months to discuss blood sugar control, medication dosage and any new developments in diabetes management.
Exercise regularly, and eat a good diet that is low in fat, and processed sugar and carbohydrates.
We associate dementia and Alzheimer’s disease with memory loss, but rarely do we link it to death.
Alzheimer’s, along with other types of dementia, is a slow and progressive disease that destroys mental functions and memory.
Your thinking, reasoning and normal habits get interrupted and eventually destroyed.
About 60%-80% of dementia cases tend to be due to Alzheimer’s.
It begins with mild memory problems such as mistakes in recalling information or not being able to remember things.
The condition worsens to the point that a patient may not remember what happens during large chunks of time.
That decline in brain function can result in death for a patient with dementia.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Being older than 65
- A family history of Alzheimer’s, including inheriting certain genes that increase your risk of developing the disease
- Existing mild cognitive impairment
- Down syndrome
- An unhealthy lifestyle
- Previous head trauma
- Being shut off from a community or having poor engagement with other people for extended periods of time
Currently, scientists aren’t really sure why some people develop dementia and others do not.
This makes it difficult to prevent dementia.
What may be helpful in reducing your risk of the disease is a heart-healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables.
It should also be low in saturated fats from meat and dairy, and high in sources of good fats like nuts, olive oil and lean fish.
The nutrition from those foods are essential for the brain, and may be what protects your brain from Alzheimer’s disease.
Diarrhoea is widespread in developing nations with poor sanitary conditions, but you can develop diarrhoea anywhere in the world.
It is caused by an intestinal virus or bacteria transmitted through contaminated water or food.
If you develop diarrhoea and it lasts more than a few days, your body ends up losing too much water and salt.
Severe dehydration can lead to death.
The best way to prevent diarrhoea is to be as careful as possible where you eat and drink, and to practice good hygiene.
Washing your hands properly can reduce incidents of diarrhoea by up to 40%.
TB is a lung infection caused by an airborne bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Although it is treatable, some strains are tough enough to not respond to conventional cures, and it is one of the main causes of death in HIV/AIDS patients.
Those at risk of developing tuberculosis include those with low body weight, HIV infection and diabetes, and those on medicines like corticosteroids or immune system suppressors.
Since 2000, however, the number of TB cases have fallen by 1.5% every year.
The bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine helps prevent children from developing tuberculous meningitis and disseminated TB – the more fatal forms of the disease.
Most of us in Malaysia would have received it as young children.
If you have latent (or inactive) TB, you can take a preventive treatment regime to prevent your condition from developing into active TB.
A properly functioning liver filters harmful substances from your blood.
External substances can damage the liver, forming scar tissue.
Cirrhosis is a condition that is due to chronic or long-term scarring and damage to the liver.
It could be caused by a kidney disease, hepatitis or chronic alcoholism.
The liver is forced to work harder as scar tissue continues to form. Ultimately, it may stop working.
Factors that put one at risk of developing cirrhosis include: chronic alcohol use, fatty liver disease and chronic viral hepatitis.
To help prevent cirrhosis, avoid long-term alcohol use and abuse, as it is one of the key causes of cirrhosis.
Eat a healthy, low-fat and low-sugar diet that fulfils your daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables.
When engaging in sexual intercourse, practice safe sex by using a condom, and refrain from sharing body products like razors and toothbrushes that can pass body fluids from one person to another.
This will help prevent the spread of hepatitis.Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.