Chronic diseases kill

Chronic diseases, particularly those known as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), are the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for over 60% of all deaths.

This is according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which equates the total number of deaths caused by chronic diseases to 36 million people a year.

This is scary stuff, especially when you consider that 80% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

What are non-communicable diseases?

NCDs typically progress slowly and span many years. The risk factors include physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, the use of tobacco and harmful alcohol consumption.

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4 Common non-communicable diseases

Here’s a look at the four main types of NCDs and the risk factors associated with each of them:

1. Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease refers to diseases of the heart and includes hypertensive-, ischaemic-, cerebrovascular-, inflammatory- and rheumatic heart disease. 

What puts you at risk?

The risk factors for cardiovascular disease include, but are not limited to:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Poor diet
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Physical inactivity

2. Chronic respiratory disease

These chronic diseases affect the airways and other parts of the lung. They include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory allergies and pulmonary hypertension.

What puts you at risk?

The risk factors for chronic respiratory diseases include, but are not limited to:

  • Smoking
  • Air pollution
  • Allergens
  • Occupational hazards

3. Cancer

Cancer is a disease associated with the irregular growth of cells and has over a hundred forms. These include cancer of the lung, colon, skin, breast, prostate, spine and lymph nodes.

What puts you at risk?

While the causes of cancer are difficult to determine, research shows that the following can increase the risk of developing the disease:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Diet
  • Hormones
  • Obesity
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use

4. Diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic condition resulting in high blood sugar levels. These are caused by inadequate insulin production, the body failing to respond to insulin in the correct way, or both. Most people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes.

What puts you at risk?

Type 1:

  • Family history
  • Pancreatic diseases

Type 2:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Physical inactivity
  • Prediabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglycerides level

Chronic medication and your pharmacist

Very often, chronic diseases need to be treated with prescription drugs and pharmacists play a key role in managing this medication. In fact, they can be your greatest ally.

Pharmacists are able to confirm the correct dosage, advise when it should be taken, and draw your attention to certain requirements such as whether your medication needs to be stored in the fridge. They are also available to answer any questions you may have, such as the side effects of a particular medication and how your prescription medication will affect any other medication you are taking, including non-prescription medicines.

Pharmacists can also perform screening tests for many of these conditions, and advise you when you need to visit your doctor. And you don’t need to feel embarrassed about asking questions – they’re guaranteed to have heard them all before.


While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.