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Owning A Chronic Disease Can Boost The Risk For Others

Team HealthAssure
December 30, 2022

If you have specific health disorders, it may be advisable to undergo health screenings and take measures to prevent further issues from arising.

Chronic diseases are a common occurrence among older individuals. Approximately 85% of people over the age of 60 have at least one chronic condition, and 60% have at least two. These numbers can even be higher, as certain diseases often go hand in hand and having one can increase your likelihood of developing another.

It is important for individuals to be aware of their potential for chronic diseases as they age and to take preventive measures to maintain their health. Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider and a healthy lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.

The vicious cycle

Several chronic conditions frequently co-occur, including obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. These conditions often act as risk factors for one another, creating a chain reaction: if one condition is not properly managed, it increases the likelihood of developing another. It is important for individuals to be aware of the potential for these conditions to occur together and to take steps to manage and prevent them. This may involve following a healthy diet and lifestyle, receiving regular check-ups with a healthcare provider, and taking prescribed medications as needed.

As an example, obesity can cause type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, which can damage the walls of blood vessels. This damage makes the blood vessels more vulnerable to cholesterol deposits, especially if you have high cholesterol levels. Plaque buildup on the walls of the blood vessels can result in stiffness, narrowing, and blockages (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can lead to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke. It is important to address and manage obesity and other chronic conditions in order to reduce the risk of developing these serious health problems. Other related problems include:

  • loss of vision (as a result of damaged blood vessels in the eyes)
  • male erectile dysfunction
  • amputations due to narrowed blood vessels in the extremities (peripheral artery disease)
  • chronic kidney disease that can result in kidney failure

Even when risk factors are well managed, diabetes still increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21%. The exact reason for this increased risk is not fully understood, but it may be due to the fact that diabetes is often not diagnosed until later stages, which means that risk factors cannot be controlled from the outset. Additionally, the study had a small number of patients with all risk factors controlled, which may have affected the results.

Other connections

Chronic conditions often have connections to one another. For instance, autoimmune conditions involve the immune system mistakenly attacking the body's own tissues, leading to various conditions such as type 1 diabetes (a condition in which the immune system attacks cells that produce insulin), Hashimoto's disease (a condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland), and rheumatoid arthritis (a condition in which the immune system attacks the lining of joints). 

Autoimmune diseases often occur together, with people who have one autoimmune disease being more likely to develop others. This is because having one autoimmune disease suggests that there is a fundamental problem with the immune system. For example, people with Hashimoto's disease have a 14% chance of developing another autoimmune disease, which is much higher than the risk for people who do not have any autoimmune diseases. Here are some other examples of associations between chronic conditions.

Hearing loss as well as cognitive decline

Hearing loss can negatively impact a person's communication skills, leading to decreased socialization and potentially increasing the risk of developing dementia. Some experts suggest that hearing loss may alter the brain's structure, making it more susceptible to dementia. In addition, hearing loss may lead to isolation and loneliness, which are known risk factors for cognitive decline. Therefore, addressing hearing loss early on may be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing dementia.

Obesity and joint problems

Obesity can not only increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, but it can also put additional strain on the joints, leading to the deterioration of cartilage and the development of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of bones wears down over time. This can cause pain and stiffness in the joints, making it difficult to move around. In addition, obesity can also put pressure on the back and spine, leading to back pain and discomfort. Losing weight through diet and exercise can help reduce the risk of developing these conditions and improve overall health.

Obstructive sleep problems and hypertension

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which a person's airway becomes blocked during sleep, resulting in temporary pauses in breathing (called apneas). This occurs when the tongue or throat tissue blocks the airway. Each apnea causes a drop in oxygen levels and puts stress on the heart. The apnea ends when the person briefly wakes up, leading to a surge in stress hormones and an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this repeated pattern of apneas and arousal can permanently damage blood vessels and increase blood pressure. Obstructive sleep apnea can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, as it can lead to heart problems, diabetes, and other health issues if left untreated. It is important to seek medical attention if you or a loved one experiences symptoms such as snoring, fatigue, or difficulty sleeping.

What you must do

It is important for people with chronic conditions to speak with their doctor about the risk of related diseases and to undergo appropriate health screenings. 

For example, people with sleep apnea should be screened for high blood pressure, and doctors should ask people with high blood pressure about potential sleep apnea symptoms. If you have high blood pressure and your doctor has not asked about sleep symptoms, it is important to bring it up. For people with diabetes, regular checks of blood pressure, kidney function, cholesterol levels, feet, and eyes are necessary to detect and prevent potential problems.

In some cases, further screening may not be automatically recommended. For example, a diagnosis of hearing loss on a routine hearing test does not necessarily mean that formal testing for dementia should be conducted. However, if someone has developed new cognitive issues, it may be appropriate to explore this type of testing. It is always important to ask your doctor about steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing additional chronic conditions.

Being proactive and addressing potential complications early can be helpful in maintaining good health.

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