HealthAgenda

Common conditions

5 preventable health issues

You can improve your quality of life every day through healthy eating, exercise and vaccinations. Here are 5 preventable health issues you can address today.

Health Agenda
May 2017

Immunisation and disease screening are key to reducing your risk of certain diseases, but simple lifestyle changes can also lower your risk of a number of health conditions.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Australia’s health 2016 report, the top five risk factors for disease are smoking, obesity, high alcohol intake, physical inactivity and high blood pressure. Addressing these is a good start and can significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, cancers and diabetes, which account for 17 of the 20 top causes of death.

Other proactive steps, like regular check-ups and seeing your GP if you develop symptoms or notice any changes (such as a lump or new mole), may also prevent a condition from becoming serious and increase the likelihood of successful treatment.

Lifestyle has a clear impact on the following five issues, so here’s what you can do.

Infectious diseases

After years of declining rates, infectious diseases that can be prevented by vaccines are on the rise again in Australia. There have been outbreaks of measles and mumps around the country, and whooping cough (pertussis) is establishing a foothold in some communities, with 4,113 cases reported from 1 January to 21 April 2017. Even tetanus is making a comeback, with two unvaccinated children contracting the bacteria-borne disease this year.

False reports exaggerating the risks of vaccines have led to some people deciding not to vaccinate themselves or their children. At the same time, the success of previous vaccination programs has led some people to dramatically underestimate the seriousness of childhood diseases. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, measles, for example, has a 10% risk of ear infections that can lead to deafness, a 5% risk of causing pneumonia, and for every 1,000 children who contract measles, 1-2 will die from it.

Prevention: Keep up to date with childhood and adult vaccinations with the help of your doctor. Have your doctor monitor your vaccination schedule and follow their advice for special vaccinations, especially those that don't give lifelong immunity.

This not only helps to prevent disease in individuals, but can lower the risk for other, more vulnerable people in the community. Whooping cough, for example, is dangerous for young children, but has a higher risk for babies who are too young to be vaccinated. Keeping older children from contracting the disease and vaccinating pregnant women, who are able to pass some of that immunity on to their newborns, has lowered infant death rates.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease, where the arteries heading to the heart become narrowed or blocked, is the leading cause of death for all Australians, affecting around 11,000 men and 8,800 women per year.

Unhealthy lifestyles contribute to the risk of coronary heart disease, but a lack of awareness of symptoms is also a factor in people letting a heart condition worsen to the point of heart attack.

Common symptoms include palpitations, unusual breathlessness and angina (chest pain or discomfort). Almost three-quarters of people with high blood pressure don't know they have it and only 10% of the 1 in 3 Australians that have high cholesterol are aware of it.

Prevention: To reduce your risk of a heart attack stay active, eat a healthy diet, and maintain a healthy weight. If you’re a smoker, quitting will also lower your risk. Regularly monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and familiarise yourself with the symptoms of heart disease.

Lung cancer

About 47,000 Australians die from cancer each year with lung cancer the top cause, affecting about 5,100 men and 3,700 women.

Nine in 10 cases of lung cancer are due to smoking but people who’ve never smoked can also get lung cancer. About 15% of Australians smoke daily (approximately 17% of men and 12% of women).

Prevention: Not smoking, or quitting, will significantly reduce your risk of lung cancer. Quit today and in 10 years your risk of lung cancer is less than half that of a smoker.

Type 2 diabetes

About 1 million Australian adults have type 2 diabetes and while genetics and ethnicity are factors, weight and diet are important and research suggests 58% of cases can be prevented. About 500,000 people with type 2 diabetes don’t know they have it and are only diagnosed when they develop other conditions, like a heart attack, vision problems or a foot ulcer.

Prevention: A combination of regular physical activity, healthy eating and weight reduction can prevent or slow the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Sexually transmitted infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise with recognised diagnoses increasing for diseases such as syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea to more than 450 cases per 100,000 people and more than 1,800 cases for every 100,000 teenagers in the 16-18-year-old age bracket. Chlamydia accounts for about 4 in 5 STIs.

A contributing factor to the rise in infection rates is that people with syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea may not show any symptoms.

Prevention: The best way to prevent STIs is by practising safe sex. If you (or your sexual partner) have multiple sexual partners, go to your GP or a sexual health clinic for regular STI tests.

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