Chronic Diseases

What are chronic diseases?

Chronic diseases, also known as noncommunicable diseases or NCDs, are diseases that are persistent and generally slow in progression which can be treated but not cured.

What are the risk factors for chronic diseases?

In individuals, we can classify the risks factors as follows:

  • Background risk factors, such as age, sex, level of education and genetic composition;
  • Behavioural risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity; and
  • Intermediate risk factors, such as elevated blood lipids, diabetes, high blood pressure and overweight/obesity.

In communities, the main factors that can impact health include:

  • Social and economic conditions, such as poverty, employment and family composition;
  • Environment, such as climate or air pollution;
  • Culture, such as practices, norms and values; and
  • Urbanization, which influences housing, access to products and services.

What can be done to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases?

Chronic diseases share common risk factors and conditions. While some risk factors, such as age, sex, and genetic make-up, cannot be changed, many behavioural risk factors can be modified, as well as a number of intermediate biological factors including high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, elevated blood lipids, and pre-diabetes. Societal, economic, and physical conditions influence and shape behaviour and indirectly affect other biological factors. The recognition of these common risk factors and conditions is the conceptual basis for an integrated approach to preventing chronic disease and also to providing guidance for public health action.