What are non-communicable diseases?

In this chapter you will learn:

  1. What are non-communicable diseases?

  2. Cancer

  3. Cardiovascular disease

  4. The effect of smoking and cardiovascular disease

  5. The effect of alcohol on the liver and brain function

  6. Obesity

  7. Type 2 diabetes

What are non-communicable diseases?

Non-communicable diseases are not transferred between people.

Examples of non-communicable diseases are diabetes, cancer, genetic diseases and heart disease.

Risk factor is something that increase the chances of a person to develop a certain diseases.


Cancers are non-communicable diseases and you can't catch them from another person.

Cancer is a condition where cells grow and reproduce uncontrollably, even when the body does not need them. A group of cancerous cells produces a growth called a tumour.

There are two types of tumours: Benign and malignant.

Benign tumour grows slowly and does not invade other parts of the body.

Malignant tumour grows quickly and can spread to other parts of the body.

The factor that can affect the risk of developing a non-communicable diseases are: lifestyle, genetics and environmental factor.

risk factors that cause cancer include:

Lifestyle-related factors that cause cancer are alcohol, tobacco and exposure to UV radiation in sunlight leading to the development of certain cancers.

Environmental factors at work that cause cancer are polynuclear hydrocarbons, plastic chemicals and some metal compounds.

Bacteria and viruses that can cause cancer are Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis viruses and the human papilloma virus (HPV).

Diet, including too much fat and salt have been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer.

There are also genetic risk factors for some particular types of cancer.

Carcinogens are chemicals that can cause cancer.

Cancer can be treated using chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular diseases are a group of diseases that relate to the heart and blood vessels.

Build up of fatty material in the arteries forms atheromas, which reduces blood flow to muscle tissue. This can lead to a heart attack or a stroke.

Like all muscles, heart muscles need oxygen for aerobic respiration, which is supplied by the blood carried by coronary arteries. They can get blocked by build up of bad cholesterol.

Blockage of coronary arteries results in heart attacks. Heart attacks result in damage to, or death of the heart muscle.

The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle. When arteries become narrowed or blocked by a build-up of fatty plaques containing cholesterol that can result in a heart disease.

Cholesterol is important and we need a small amount of cholesterol because the body needs it to build healthy cells. But high levels of cholesterol are associated with heart disease.

Drugs and surgery can be used to control coronary heart disease. Statins are drugs that reduce blood cholesterol levels and also slow down the rate of fatty material deposit

Statins are not suitable for everyone, like people with liver disease, pregnant woman or breast feeding women.

Most common statin side effects include: headaches and memory loss.

Coronary heart disease can be treated with stents.

Stents are thin-walled wire mesh tubes inserted into arteries to keep them open for good flow of blood.

Stent squashes the fat deposits and so widening the artery to allow blood flow more freely.

Fatty substances can build up on the stents over time.

There is always a risk of infection with any surgical procedure.

A heart transplant is required if you have heart failure and severe cardiovascular disease.

However, any major surgery or transplant carries risks eg from bleeding, infection.

There is a shortage of donor hearts.

Artificial hearts are plastic devices used occasionally to keep patients alive, until a donor heart can be found.

These plastic devices are able to pump blood around a person who have weakened hearts or heart failure.

But artificial heart machines are not as efficient as a real heart and there are still risks from heart attacks and strokes.

The blood flow is not as smooth causing blood clots and strokes.

Heart patients have to take drugs to thin their blood.

But thesee drugs cause problems if the patient has any accident there is an increased risk of excessive bleeding.

The effect of smoking and cardiovascular disease

Smoking damages the lining of the arteries.

Carbon monoxide in cigarette reduces the amount of oxygen available in your body.

Chemicals in cigarette increase the risk of the blood clotting.

Smoking increase the risk of lung diseases like chronic bronchitis.

The nicotine in cigarette increases the heart rate and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Smoking also causes lung cancer.

Cardiovascular disease can be treated by surgery, medication and improving diet and lifestyle.

The effect of alcohol on the liver and brain function

Alcohol can damage our liver. Fatty liver disease is a common problem caused by the buildup of certain fats in the liver.

Alcoholic hepatitis is a serious condition caused by alcohol. Too much drinking over a long period of time results in permanent liver damage and a liver transplant is required to keep the person alive.

Drinking raises blood pressure and increase the chances of cardiovascular disease.

Effect of alcohol and brain function

Excessive drinking of alcohol can affect our brain function.

Alcohol can causes difficulty in walking and slows reaction time.

Alcohol can cause brain shrinkage and memory problems.

Alcohol can cause slurred speech and changes in sleep patterns.

Alcohol increases the risk of mouth cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer.

Alcohol can lead to a variety of physical, developmental and behavioural effects on unborn babies.

Alcoholism has impacts on social and economic aspects. It increases violence, crime and risk of accidents.


Poor diet and over-eating can lead to increase in body weight.

Obesity leads to high blood pressure.

Obesity can also affect your breathing and reduces your respiratory function.

Build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, lead to cardiovascular disease.

Obesity also increases the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight is also linked to cancers of the bowel, kidney and liver.

The body mass index has been used to help health professionals decide whether a person is underweight, normal, overweight or obese.

The higher your BMI the more fat you are carrying. BMI higher than 25 - You are classified as being overweight for your height.

BMI below 18.5 are classified as underweight for your height.

BMI 18.5 to 24.99 means you are normal weight.

Type 2 diabetes

In type 2 diabetes your body cells no longer respond to insulin produced by the pancreas.

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be reduced by eating a balanced diet.

There is no cure for type 2 diabetes, but it it is possible to control it by a carbohydrate controlled diet and exercise. It is more common in older people.

Being overweight also increases your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

People need medicine to control their type 2 diabetes. Some medicines help lower the amount of sugar in your blood.