Heart diseases and cancer are the leading causes of death for women in Australia. Depending on a woman’s age, those two diseases account for roughly 30 per cent to 55 per cent of all deaths. These two illnesses are obviously the leading killers of men as well, with the location of the cancers, usually the main difference.
While you are right to worry about reducing you cancer risk and addressing your heart health, there are a number of other killers, which should be on your radar.
We assess the risk factors and explain how you can best protect yourself.
1. Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Dementia is not one specific disease, but a collection of brain disorders loosely titled cerebrovascular diseases, encapsulating a range of symptoms. Among the elderly it is extremely common and the latest figures suggest around one-third of all Australians over the age of 85 suffer from it. The most common types of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD), Huntington’s disease, alcohol-related dementia (Korsakoff syndrome) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Cerebrovascular diseases account for the deaths of about 12,000 Australians a year. While there is no known cure for dementia, doctors advise that the best way to stave off its onset is to have a healthy diet composed of a lot of fruit and vegetables and to keep your brain stimulated.
The early signs of dementia are very subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious. Some common symptoms may include:
- progressive and frequent memory loss
- personality change
- apathy and withdrawal
- loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.
For more information visit fightdementia.org.au
As well as being one of Australia’s leading killers, stroke is also a leading cause of permanent disability. A stroke occurs when a blood clot disrupts the supply of blood to the brain. Around 11,000 Australians are killed by stroke each year and the number of women killed annually by strokes outnumbers women killed by breast cancer. The good news is that scientists believe that up to 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol intake all increase the risk of stroke.
The Stroke Foundation now provides an easy test to recognise the signs of stroke, called the FAST method. Using the FAST test involves asking these simple questions:
- Face Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
- Arm Can they lift both arms?
- Speech Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
- Time Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.
For more information visit strokefoundation.org.au
3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
COPD is the umbrella term for a bunch of nasty lung-related issues, including asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. In 2015, there were 7991 deaths due to COPD in Australia, which represents five per cent of all deaths in that year. The leading factors contributing to COPD are:
- poor environmental conditions
- socioeconomic disadvantage
- ‘risky behaviours’ (cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and substance use)
- poor nutrition.
While there is currently no cure for COPD, there are things people can do to breathe easier, and improve their quality of life, including quitting smoking and avoiding polluted air.
For more information visit lungfoundation.com.au
Diabetes affects about 1.7 million Australians, with roughly 280 people developing the condition every day. Diabetes is formed when the body cannot maintain healthy levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The condition is the leading cause of kidney failure and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. While there are various types of diabetes, Type 2 can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, eating healthily and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Early symptoms of diabetes include urinating all the time, feeling thirsty, extreme fatigue, vision problems and feeling hungry even when you are eating enough.
For more information visit diabetesaustralia.com.au
5. Kidney and urinary diseases
Chronic kidney disease is often referred to as ‘the silent disease’ because there are often no warning signs and people are able to lose 90 per cent of their kidney function before getting any symptoms. If you experience pain when urinating you should consult with your doctor as this can often be a sign that there is something wrong with the urinary system. The best way to keep your kidneys healthy is to drink plenty of fresh water daily.
For more information visit kidney.org.au