By: Toby Cosgrove, MD
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It’s understandable to be concerned about the potential of infectious diseases like avian flu. But there are other diseases –non-infectious diseases – that are even more frightening and are already destroying millions of lives at this very moment. One of these diseases is preventable; another mostly can be prevented; and the third is completely out of our control and threatens the lives of millions.
Type 2 diabetes
The first of these is Type 2 diabetes. It contributes to more than 230,000 deaths each year and causes almost 70,000 people a year to lose a lower limb. Once known primarily as adult-onset diabetes, it is now present in one in every 400 children. Losing weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising can prevent diabetes and improve symptoms in those who have it. In 2012, it cost the country $245 billion to treat this disease. Bariatric surgery has emerged as an effective treatment for obese people with diabetes. Still, diabetes rates continue to skyrocket. That’s a scary thought.
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The second disease, which mostly can be prevented, is lung cancer – the deadliest cancer for both women and men in America. Almost 160,000 people a year die from it, with the overwhelming majority of cases caused by tobacco use. There is no question about the link between smoking and lung cancer, yet millions of people still smoke. We have the power to virtually eliminate this disease simply by quitting the cigarette habit. Still, people continue to smoke even after four decades of incontrovertible proof of its deadly consequences. That’s another frightening thought.
Annual lung cancer screening for older smokers
Finally, there’s Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases, which we have little control over. Alzheimer’s currently affects an estimated 5.2 million people. It’s the sixth leading cause of death and cost the nation about $203 billion last year. We’re not really sure what causes Alzheimer’s, and as the Alzheimer’s Association says: “It is the only cause of death among the top 10 in America without a way to prevent it, cure it or even slow its progression.” One thing we do know is that Alzheimer’s seems to share some major risk factors with cardiovascular disease, like high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle. This is good news, because these are all controllable factors.
Until we make revelatory discoveries about how to prevent Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases – which we are working toward here at Cleveland Clinic and at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas — the fear factor will remain.
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