Posted by Champaklal Dajibhai Mistry on March 23, 2003

Can you prevent 7 top diseases

As troubling as it may be, it's a fact that many of us will suffer a major disease as we age. Here are the seven leading culprits, their causes, and what you can do to avoid them.

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Can you prevent 7 top diseases

Brian Banks
From  50PLUS.COM

While we all hope expect to grow old with as much vigour and vitality, many of us will be hit with at least one major disease along the way. As troubling as it may be, itís a fact of life that most of the major diseases we fear are associated with aging.

While your chances of suffering from a major disease may increase with age, aging doesnít automatically mean disease. While itís clear that some factors governing your fate are beyond your control, there are many things you can do to either avoid these afflictions or postpone them for as long as possible.

Here are seven leading culprits, their causes and your best bets for either coping with or evading them.

Heart disease
Heart disease can take many forms, but the most frequent -- and most relevant to people over 50 -- is coronary artery disease (CAD). It is the most common cause of death in both men and women over 65. CAD is generally a lifestyle disease that can be prevented.

Many people mistakenly think CAD is a manís disease. While this is true during your 40s, by age 75, the risk of CAD in men and women is about equal.

Causes and risk factors
CAD commonly results from atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque, made up of cholesterol, fats and other materials, builds up in arteries that supply blood to the heart. High blood pressure, a high-fat diet, and smoking are chief contributors to the development of plaque.

As plaque accumulates, it begins to restrict blood flow and oxygen to the heart, leading to pain. When the blockage cuts blood flow by more than 50 per cent, the heart suffers permanent damage. In especially severe cases, atherosclerosis can block blood flow entirely or the already narrow channel can be blocked by a blood clot -- in either case, the result is a heart attack.

Age and a family history of heart disease are uncontrollable risk factors. Most others, however, are lifestyle-related: smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as risk factors fall into both categories: they can be genetic as well as lifestyle.

Treatment and prevention
Angina sufferers take drugs to lower blood pressure as well as heart rate, and nitroglycerine to alleviate the symptoms. Exercise, stopping smoking and eating a healthy diet can alleviate the condition somewhat. Angioplasty or bypass surgery may be needed.

Heart attacks demand rapid action. If the heart has stopped, it can be restarted with an automated external defibrillator, which shocks the heart into beating again. If the attack is due to a blood clot, drugs to eliminate clots may be prescribed.

The best treatment for CAD, of course, is prevention: quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a low-fat diet and drinking alcohol in moderation. Medication may be prescribed to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and treat diabetes. Low-dose aspirin may be prescribed to discourage blood clot formation.

A stroke occurs when a blood clot stops blood flow to an area of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds. In both cases, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and are either damaged or die. For most sufferers, the consequences range from temporary loss of functions to permanent paralysis and death. Some people also have a third type of stroke known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). With TIA, blood flow to the brain is interrupted only briefly. Symptoms go away in minutes or hours and there is no lasting damage. TIAs are often seen as warning signs of risk for a more serious stroke.

Every 10 minutes, someone in Canada has a stroke -- more than 50,000 people a year (excluding TIAs). Of these, approximately 80 per cent occur in those 65 or older. Men are at a 30 per cent higher risk than women.

Causes and risk factors

Non-modifiable: age (risk doubles every decade over 55); gender (men have a 30 per cent greater risk); race (people of African and Oriental ancestry are at higher risk); family history of stroke or TIA before age 65.
Modifiable: high blood pressure (increases stroke risk four to six times); atrial fibrillation (a rapid, irregular heartbeat); carotid artery disease; diabetes; high cholesterol; smoking (doubles risk); excessive alcohol consumption; being overweight.
When a stroke occurs, itís now known that brain cell damage often proceeds in a two-step fashion: there is immediate damage followed by the slower demise of more remotely affected cells.

Treatment and prevention
The faster a stroke victim receives treatment, the better the odds of survival and recovery.

The first three hours after onset are critical. Anticoagulants may be administered to help offset the chances of subsequent strokes. Patients suffering from blood vessel rupture may undergo surgery to repair the damage. The impact and degree of recovery is dependent on such factors as the size of the stroke and its location.

On the preventive side, diet and exercise address some of the modifiable risk factors. Drugs may be given to lower high blood pressure.

While most of us think of cancer as one disease the term actually refers to scores of different diseases. All involve uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells (tumours) that begin in one area and, if unchecked, often spread to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph systems. The most common are skin cancer, breast cancer (women), prostate cancer (men), lung cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphoma. While some cancers are more treatable than others, the overall survival rate is slightly better than 50 per cent.

The chances that youíll be diagnosed with cancer sometime in your life are better than one in three but those chances increase substantially with age. In fact, half of all diagnoses occur in people over 65.

In 2001:

an estimated 115,000 Canadians age 50 and over were diagnosed with cancer.
in the 50 to 59 age group: approx. 12,000 women and approx. 9,500 men
in the 60 to 79 age group approx. 30,000 women and approx. 40,600 men
above 80, approx. 11,500 women and approx. 11,300 men
Causes and risks
Cancerís chief instigators are agents known as carcinogens. Cancer appears when carcinogen-induced damage accumulates to the point where unchecked cell growth begins. In five to 10 per cent of all cases, heredity also plays a role -- some people are born with mutations that promote the growth of certain cells or lead to more mutations.

All this exposure and damage takes time to develop Ė which explains why most forms of cancer are more common as we age.

Lung cancer: nine out 10 lung cancers are due to smoking, which results in one-third of all cancer deaths in North America. Smoking is also definitively linked to cancer of the esophagus, upper respiratory tract, bladder and pancreas.
Skin cancer: exposure to sun and ultraviolet light; history of blistering sunburn in youth; fair skin, fair hair, freckles.
Breast cancer: family history, especially if it occurred before menopause in a womanís mother, grandmother or sister; early menstruation and/or late menopause; obesity. Even so, 80 per cent of women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors.
Prostate cancer: family history in a father or uncle; African ancestry; high-fat diet.
Colorectal cancer: family history; diet high in saturated fat (red meat, in particular) and low in fibre-rich fruits, whole grains, fresh vegetables. A high-fat diet is second only to smoking as a cause of cancer in North America.
Treatment and prevention
The usual cancer treatment is surgery to remove the cancer and surrounding tissue, followed by either chemotherapy or radiation therapy in an effort to destroy remaining cancer cells. Because cancer often spreads via the lymph systems, lymph nodes are often removed.

In breast cancer and prostate cancer, hormone therapy is increasingly common.

The consensus is that prevention is the best medicine: donít smoke; avoid the sunís harmful rays; eat five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit a day; avoid foods high in saturated fat; drink less alcohol; and exercise regularly to keep weight down and bolster your immune system.

On the supplement side, many people put stock in antioxidants -- especially vitamins E and C, beta carotene and selenium. While many studies support the belief that antioxidant supplements reduce cancer risk, there is just as much credible research to suggest they are unnecessary. Talk to your health care provider.

Say arthritis and many people think about stiff knees in the morning or that nagging shoulder pain when you reach for a jar on a top shelf. But arthritis is actually an umbrella term for about 100 different, mostly chronic conditions. The two best known and most widespread are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but arthritis includes other well-known ailments such as gout, fibromyalgia and lupus. Symptoms can be as mild as the stiffness noted above to severe and constant crippling pain, swelling and disfigurement.

Of the two major forms, OA is by far the most common, afflicting an estimated three million Canadians. It's also the form most likely to set in after a person reaches 50. In fact, 50 per cent of all Canadians over 65 have OA; in those aged 75 and up, the incidence is about 75 per cent.

In contrast, most of the approximately 300,000 Canadians with RA experience the first onset between ages 25 and 50.

Causes and risk factors
No one yet knows exactly what causes arthritis, although in the case of RA, researchers say the key lies in the bodyís own immune system mistakenly attacking normal body tissue. Some even believe that OA may have an autoimmune element or a bacterial link, given the strong relationship between the degree of joint inflammation and the severity of symptoms.

OA: age (onset usually occurs after age 45); heredity (predisposition to weak cartilage, ill-fitting joints); excess weight; injury or overuse; presence of RA or other forms of arthritis.
RA: heredity (many people with RA have a certain genetic marker) but others get it who have no prior family history; having the gene does not guarantee youíll get RA.
Treatment and prevention
OA: weight loss can reduce stress on joints. Sufferers must also be careful not to put excessive stress on joints while lifting, moving or working. Range-of-motion exercises help reduce stiffness and keep joints moving. Acetaminophin relieves pain; to ease pain and reduce inflammation, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are commonly used.

Recently, dietary supplements glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate have gained popularity as NSAID alternatives; instead of just relieving symptoms, there is evidence these supplements treat the underlying degenerative disorder itself. Surgery is sometimes needed in advanced cases.

RA: exercise and painkillers are strongly recommended for RA sufferers. However, the medicinal arsenal is extensive. Surgery is often required for advanced cases.

Diabetes refers to a group of diseases in which the body has problems converting food to energy. To do this, cells use insulin produced in the pancreas. However, when people have diabetes, they either produce little or no insulin (Type 1 diabetes) or their production declines with age and/or their body becomes resistant to it (Type 2 diabetes).

In either case, the result is abnormally high blood glucose levels and cells that are starved of energy. Left unchecked, it damages blood vessels and nerves and can lead to such complications as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, even death. While there is no cure, diabetes can usually be treated quite effectively.

While some people over 50 have Type 1 diabetes, onset always occurs early in life. Type 2 diabetes is a different story. Also known as ďmature onsetĒ diabetes, it seldom occurs before age 40, with first diagnosis most likely to take place between ages 50 and 59. Type 2 diabetes is also far more common, accounting for approximately 90 per cent of all diabetes cases in Canada - and one of the most common diseases Canadians should watch out for once they turn 50.

Causes and risk factors
As noted, Type 2 diabetes is caused either by a decline in insulin production or the bodyís growing resistance to insulin. The actual underlying cause or trigger for this process is not known. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, however, it is believed that a personís lifestyle often plays a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Risk factors include:
being overweight
aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian or African ancestry; family history
high cholesterol; high blood pressure
higher than normal blood glucose levels
having given birth to at least one baby weighing more than 4 kg (9 lb)
a sedentary lifestyle.
Treatment and prevention
Glucose-lowering drugs are available for both the prevention (for those with pre-diabetes) and treatment of Type 2 diabetes. However, recent research shows that a program of proper diet, exercise and weight loss can be even more effective in both managing and preventing the disease.

Bone density typically peaks around age 30 and then declines. While most of us suffer no ill effects from this decline, a large minority of people experience bone density loss so severe that something as simple as a hard sneeze or a stumble can cause sudden fractures. Unchecked, osteoporosis can cause disability and death, although recent advances in treatment and prevention now make it far less debilitating.

According to the latest estimates, osteoporosis affects as many as 1.4 million Canadians -- all of them over age 50. While many people think of osteoporosis as a womenís disease, some 20 per cent of its sufferers are men. Women get it earlier, starting at about age 55, following menopause but, by age 75, osteoporosis strikes both sexes equally.

Causes and risk factors
While bone density loss is the culprit with osteoporosis, the exact mechanism is not totally understood. In women, itís commonly triggered by the loss of estrogen after menopause and, in men, diminishing testosterone production. However, because everyone loses bone density but not everyone gets osteoporosis, the entire explanation lies somewhere in the related risk factors.

Numerous risk factors have been identified for osteoporosis:

a diet low in calcium or vitamin D during adolescence/early adulthood
a slim build and/or small bones
family history
having diabetes or other medical disorders
long-term use of corticosteroids; smoking, heavy drinking, lack of regular weight-bearing exercise.
Treatment and prevention
Treatment usually starts with hormone replacement therapy, which can reduce the rate of bone loss or halt it completely. Certain drugs have shown the ability to increase bone density, rebuild bones and reduce fracture rates. Regular weight-bearing exercise has the potential to reduce, halt and, in some cases, reverse bone loss.

Prevention is still much easier than treatment. This starts with a proper bone-building diet high in calcium, vitamin D and phosphorous. Continued healthy eating and weight-bearing exercise will also help reduce bone loss at all stages in life.

Alzheimer's disease
The most common of a group of dementias causing deterioration of brain structures and functions, Alzheimerís is progressive and ultimately fatal. Its hallmarks are symptoms once dismissed as a normal part of aging -- memory loss and a decreasing ability to think, communicate and take care of oneself.

Alzheimerís rarely strikes people under 60. Even at age 70, the number of sufferers is estimated at only two per cent. From there, however, the risk doubles every five years. By age 85, an estimated 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the population has some degree of Alzheimerís.

Causes and risk factors
Researchers still canít say exactly what causes Alzheimerís. But there are clues. In Alzheimerís sufferers, certain levels of chemicals in the brain are much lower than normal. Researchers also believe Alzheimerís is related to the formation of amyloid plaque deposits that show up in the brains of people with the disease. As the disease progresses, nerve cells in the brain die off and the brains of sufferers actually shrink in size. Other research suggests that Alzheimerís and other forms of dementia may be a consequence of hypertension (high blood pressure) or nutrient deficiencies.

Age is the primary risk factor. However, Alzheimerís also has a genetic component; researchers have identified as many as four genes thought to play a role in the disease. People who have a family history of Alzheimerís (especially if onset occurred before age 65) are at higher risk for developing the disease.

Treatment and prevention
There is currently no way to prevent, stop or reverse Alzheimerís disease. However, two drugs -- Donepezil and Rivastigmine -- have recently come on the market in Canada that offer some respite from mild to moderate symptoms. While they do nothing to halt the progression of underlying cell damage, they can temporarily improve brain function and thus offer some improved quality of life.

Several pharmaceutical companies are also working on drugs that might one day be used as vaccines, based on the goal of halting the build up of amyloid plaque in the brain.

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