Non-communicable diseases are just as much a threat as communicable diseases. NT BUZZ stresses on the importance of regular check-ups to keep these diseases at bay
While the world is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic, another deadly yet silent pandemic is lurking – the pandemic of non-communicable diseases that account for more than 17.3 million deaths per year.
While communicable diseases have, to an extent, been brought under control throughout the world by various measures such as adequate public health care, immunisation, health awareness, the invention of various antibiotics, and newer management strategies, the last century has shown a remarkable increase in non-communicable diseases. “These include diseases like obesity, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary artery disease, brain strokes, dyslipidaemias, cancers, lung diseases, sleep apnoea, thyroid abnormalities and various kidney diseases that have caused significant morbidity and mortality,” says internal medicine consultant at Manipal Hospitals, Maya Pai Dhungat.
Non-communicable diseases or NCDs, says Dhungat, are called lifestyle diseases as they are primarily based on day-to-day habits that lead a person towards an unhealthy lifestyle. “These diseases become a major health and economic burden in developing countries including India. Sedentary lifestyle, increase in screen time, consumption of calorie-dense food, increased stress, fast track life, and genetic orientation become the main factors dragging Indians towards NCDs,” she says, adding that in India, a large percentage of people are physically inactive with fewer than 10 per cent engaging in recreational physical activities. In fact, lack of physical activity, including participation in outdoor games has been reported even in school-going children in South Asian countries.
In the coming days the Indian subcontinent will have to bear more than half of the burden of risk and eventuality of NCDs according to epidemiological studies, says Dhungat. “It is feared that India will be the global capital of diabetes mellitus by the year 2030. South Asians not only have a higher risk of premature coronary artery disease (CAD) but also the disease is more severe. In India, CAD manifests almost a decade earlier than in western countries. The deaths from CAD in India have doubled in the past ten years,” she adds.
Dhungat further explains that in the late nineties to early twentieth century, the prevalence of hypertension among Indians ranged from two-15 per cent in urban India and two-eight per cent in rural India. The prevalence increased in six decades to 25 per cent in urban and 15 per cent in rural India and is showing an increasing trend day-by-day. The increasing prevalence of high normal blood pressure (BP) has been seen in many recent studies at around 32-40 per cent. Moreover, 30-35 per cent of hypertensive patients are detected to have co-existing diabetes mellitus which results in increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. And in the meta-analysis of multiple cardiovascular epidemiological studies, it was reported that prevalence rates of CAD and stroke has increased among the Indian population. The National Family Health Survey 2019-2020 (NFHS-5) which shows the state facts sheet, further emphasises this increasing trend among NCDs.
Importance of screening
Unfortunately, most non-communicable diseases are silent killers as they remain asymptomatic for a long time and are only diagnosed when the patients develop complications, says Dhungat. This can be taken care of by way of screening. Screening is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as services for the presumptive identification of unrecognised disease in a healthy, asymptomatic population by means of tests, examination, or other procedures that can be applied rapidly and easily. “Screening is important for diseases where metabolic and organ complications develop much before symptoms manifest. Screening not only involves early diagnosis but also gives a comprehensive plan for the full evaluation, education, and management strategies,” she says.
Today, screening can be either population-based or individualised. “Individual screening is an opportunistic screening wherein the individual comes in contact with the health care system which in simple words is a health check-up. The growing epidemic of diabetes and various other NCDs in India can be diagnosed and controlled by a systematic opportunistic screening ie health check-ups,” she adds.
Don’t delay your healthcare
Most people understand the importance and benefits of a health screening, yet many still choose not to undergo one. “We act only when there is a dire need or an emergency, otherwise health takes a backseat. We don’t mind spending on clothes and restaurants, but when it comes to spending on one’s own health, one may procrastinate or feel like it’s not needed. Some have the notion that ignorance is bliss while others may fear facing the reality. ‘Let something happen and then we will see,’ they say,” adds Dhungat.
“If the person is fit, leads a healthy lifestyle, and is below 35 years with no risk factors, he may get a comprehensive check-up done once and then every five years if he has any symptoms or feels the need to do so,” she says. “But after 45 years, it’s recommended to do one annually. If the person has any diseases, it is mandatory to keep a check on the parameters at a regular interval.”
She further calls for health check-ups done at school to be taken more seriously under the guidance of qualified people. “Prevention is better than cure and the earlier we detect an issue the better as lifestyle changes and habits develop early.”
Prevention is better than cure
The death rate caused by COVID-19 was the highest amongst those who had other morbidities. “Apart from senior citizens, COVID-19 targeted younger patients due to these co-morbid conditions,” she says. The common ones being diabetes mellitus, hypertension, pulmonary diseases, immune-deficiency states, cancers, liver and kidney diseases, etc.
Emphasising on the importance of regular health check-ups to keep non-communicable diseases at bay, she adds: “We all should strive towards a goal of a healthy life, as in the last year the fittest survived the COVID attack. We all know that prevention is always better than cure. We can say that this can only be achieved by way of keeping one’s health card updated by regular health check-ups.”