Hay fever, emphysema, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome.
Unlike cancer and heart disease, they’re not the maladies that capture a lot of publicity.
But chronic conditions can cause a substantial amount of pain, suffering and disability. These diseases and disorders are not transferred by bacteria or viruses, nor can you get them from person-to-person contact.
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They usually develop over a long period of time.
And although most are not fatal, they can wreak havoc with your body.
Fortunately, many of these modern maladies can be avoided or controlled through good health habits.
For those with a genetic origin, medical breakthroughs offer new hope.
And for others that as yet have no cure, research continues.
Do you know anyone who is living with a chronic, noninfectious condition? To help you comprehend the scope of the most common noninfectious diseases and conditions, it’s useful to assign each to one of six major categories, respiratory disorders, neurological disorders, gender-related disorders, digestion-related disorders, musculoskeletal diseases, and other maladies like chronic fatigue and carpal tunnel syndromes. A sneeze may just be a reflex when something tickles your nose.
But for people with allergies, it can be the first sign of a miserable bout of hay fever.
Hay fever is probably the most common chronic respiratory disease.
As most people know it, it causes sneezing and itching and watery eyes and nose.
It’s suffered worldwide and is usually most prevalent during the season when ragweed and flowers are blooming.
How does something as seemingly innocent as grains of pollen or dust or mold or animal dander wreak so much havoc on a person’s life?
When you’re exposed to an antigen or allergen, the body responds by producing antibodies to destroy the invader.
In some people, for reasons that are not understood, the immune system goes into overdrive and produces excessive numbers of antibodies. These antibodies, in turn, trigger the release of histamines, chemical substances that dilate blood vessels, increase mucus secretions and cause tissues to swell, the symptoms that allergy sufferers know only too well.
The only way for many people to find relief is to avoid the source of their allergy.
But when this isn’t possible, help can come in the form of injections or histamine suppresses known as antihistamines.
Asthma is another chronic respiratory disease with which you are probably familiar.
It’s characterized by attacks of wheezing, breathing difficulty and coughing spasms.
Sometimes exposure to allergens, like the ones that cause allergies, can trigger an episode of asthma.
But anxiety and stress can also cause an attack.
For relief, asthma sufferers must determine what triggers an attack and be equipped with prescription medicines, most often in the form of inhalers, just in case. One type of asthma has become well known among athletes.
It’s a condition known as exercise-induced asthma.
Fortunately, athletes, or even the average person, doesn’t have to stop working out.
Many successful athletes with the EIA find relief by keeping their lungs moist, warming up thoroughly, and breathing through the nose.
Like many chronic diseases, asthma requires that the sufferer manage the disease by avoiding triggers or things that can cause an attack.
One of the more devastating of the respiratory disorders is emphysema.
Although its exact cause is uncertain, there’s a strong indication that the development of emphysema is related to long-term cigarette smoking and exposure to air pollution.
When a person has emphysema, the alveoli, or tiny air sacs of the lungs, are gradually destroyed.
The result is a greater and greater struggle to breathe and, eventually, death.
In fact, emphysema is classified as one of several chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases which are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.
What are some things you could do that might help reduce your risk of developing a respiratory disorder? Is there anyone who was never had a headache?
Headaches can range from mild discomfort to pain so intense that it causes nausea or dizziness.
If you’re lucky, an over-the-counter-pain relief or even a relaxing bath can bring relief. But for people who suffer from severe headaches like migraines, the piercing pain can become so debilitating that they can’t work, study or socialize.
For many migraine sufferers, a visual disturbance, or aura, precedes the development of a migraine.
The aura is followed by pulsating pain on one side of the head, usually accompanied by dizziness, nausea and intolerance for light and noise. Many scientists blame migraines on either electrical disturbance on the surface of the cortex of the brain or disturbances in the brain’s pain regulating chemistry.
But whatever the physiology, many people find they can avoid most migraines by avoiding certain triggers like caffeine or red wine.
Others find relief only in strong prescription drugs.
Other common kinds of headaches include tension headaches, which can be triggered by lack of sleep or by stress.
Secondary headaches can be caused by underlying conditions that need to be treated such as sinus blockage, hypertension or problems with eyesight, and psychological headaches, which stem from anxiety, depression and another emotional factors.
All headaches can affect your mood and outlook on life.
If they become chronic or persistent see your doctor.
What events or conditions trigger headaches in you? Epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by abnormal brain activity.
It’s generally characterized by loss of control of muscle activity, mental confusion and loss of consciousness. Ancient peoples thought that epileptic seizures were caused by evil spirits.
And although much of the mystery surrounding epilepsy has been solved in modern times, the stigma of the disorder still remains.
The truth is, that today, people with epilepsy can lead normal seizure-free lives with proper medication.
Yet epileptics are often still perceived as lacking intelligence or mentally unstable, and are discriminated against in hiring. It used to be called “female troubles,” but today it’s known as PMS, or premenstrual syndrome.
And although PMS began to get clinical attention in the 1980s, it’s still considered a controversial topic.
Is it a legitimate malady?
PMS is actually a complex of symptoms that occur prior to menstruation in some women, depression, irritability, backache, abdominal cramps, and fatigue.
It’s believed to be caused by a hormonal imbalance relating to the rise in estrogen levels preceding menstruation.
Treatments include hormone therapy, pain relievers, increasing complex carbohydrates in the diet, stress reduction and exercise.
Unfortunately, PMS has become a catch-all phrase that stigmatizes women as being hard to get along with, moody and irrational.
And some women feel that men in the workforce use PMS as an excuse to keep women from attaining positions of authority, implying that they may not be fit psychologically to hold important positions.
What are the social implications of PMS?
Do you think there’s a male equivalent? Diabetes is a pancreatic disease that affects an estimated 15 million Americans, but nearly 6 million of them don’t know they have it.
In healthy people, the pancreas produces enough of the hormone insulin to allow the body to metabolize glucose or blood sugar.
In diabetics, the pancreas either fails to produce insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin for the body to regulate glucose metabolism. Doctors agree that being overweight, coupled with inactivity, dramatically increases one’s risk for developing diabetes.
In addition, diabetes tends to run in families.
So if you know there’s a family history of diabetes, you’ll also want to take steps now to reduce your risk.
And what are those steps?
You guessed it, the old standbys, eating a healthy diet rich in complex carbohydrates and plenty of exercise.
Avoiding stress, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption may also play a role in reducing your risk of diabetes.
And, as with many other conditions, early diagnosis is key to helping doctors manage diabetes.
A marked increase in thirst and urination are two of those common early symptoms and should be checked by a doctor immediately.
Much like headaches, most of us will experience some sort of digestive problem during our lives.
These symptoms could be signs of ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, or diverticulosis, all common diseases of the intestinal tract.
Peptic ulcers are another widespread digestive disorder.
They can occur in the lining of the small intestine or stomach.
In the past, they were thought to be the result of gastric acid acting on these tissues, and were treated by putting the patient on a bland diet.
But recent research has suggested that all ulcers are actually caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics.
When assessing your risk, however, be aware the peptic ulcers are most prevalent in people who are highly stressed over long periods of time, consume high-fat foods, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
Another very common condition, heartburn, actually has nothing to do with your heart.
It just feels that way.
Heartburn is really a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux, or the backup of stomach contents, including acids, into the lower esophagus.
If you have heartburn you probably know your triggers, most commonly fatty or fried foods, chocolate, coffee, alcohol and cigarettes, and can take steps to avoid them.
Some digestive diseases may run in your family, while others develop from lifestyle and eating habits.
The onset of most digestive problems can be reduced by making dietary changes, reducing stress levels, exercising and losing weight, all of the healthy habits you want to have anyway. Arthritis is something many people associate with old age.
Although some forms are more prevalent in older people, arthritis is known as the nation’s primary crippler, striking one in seven Americans or over 38 million people of all ages.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive deterioration of bones and joints associated with age and repeated injury.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a more serious inflammatory joint disease that can occur at any age, but most commonly appears between the ages of 20 and 45.
This condition typically attacks the synovial membrane, which produces the lubricating fluids for the joints.
As you can see, its advanced stages often involve the deterioration of the bony ends of the joints.
The remedy is typically bone fusion, which leaves the joint immobile, or, in some cases, joint replacement. You may have noticed recently that more and more people are wearing protective belts when they’re lifting or moving heavy objects.
Far from a fashion statement, this new trend reflects the fact that low back pain has assumed epidemic proportions in our society.
In fact, it’s estimated that 80% of all Americans will experience low back pain at some point in their lives.
Sometimes it’s a short-lived problem due to muscular damage.
But often it involves dislocations, fractures or other problems with spinal vertebrae or disks that may be chronic or require surgery. Why has low back pain become so widespread?
The main reason is that a lot of us are out of shape.
Excess weight, poor posture and weak abdominal or back muscles are the major risk factors. To minimize back pain and injury, avoid excessive strain or sharp twists when muscles are cold.
And keep in mind that it’s mainly your abdominal muscles that support your back.
So exercise in ways that focus on strengthening the abs. You can also protect your back by making sure that you use proper posture.
When sitting, be sure the seat is at a proper height so your knees are at a 90 degree angle.
And avoid slouching.
Keep your neck and back in a straight line.
To stand properly, without putting excess strain on your lower back, your chin should be in, head up, back flattened, and pelvis held straight.
And again, avoid slouching.
And when you’re lifting and carrying, bend at the knees, not at the waist.
And hold heavy objects close to you.
Do you have any of the risk factors for low back injury, and what changes can you make to avoid injury? A number of other disorders have surfaced in recent years.
Some seem related to technology and some are of, as yet, unknown origins.
Two that have received special attention are Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Chronic fatigue syndrome leaves its victims feeling totally exhausted.
Other symptoms include headaches, fever, sore throat and general weakness.
When it first began showing up in the late 1980s, CFS was believed to be related to mononucleosis.
But more recent tests have led doctors to all but rule out the possibility of a viral cause. In the absence of any known pathogen, many doctors now believe that CFS has psychological roots.
Among college students, for example, CFS seems to correlate with emotional instability introversion, anxiety and depression.
Since no one knows it’s exact cause, the only current treatments for CFS focus on improved nutrition, rest, counseling for depression, exercise, and a strong support network. Let’s say you have a job that requires lengthy hours at the computer.
Suddenly, your wrists start to hurt so badly you can barely do your job.
Chances are, the cause is carpal tunnel syndrome, a common occupational injury that causes the median nerve in your wrist to become irritated, resulting in numbness, tingling and pain in your fingers and hands.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common job-related repetitive motion injuries, putting 15 million Americans at risk.
College students are included in this high-risk population.