Diseases are classified as either communicable or noncommunicable. Communicable diseases are spread to other people and they are caused by viral, bacterial, parasitic, or fungal infection. Noncommunicable diseases, also known as non-infectious diseases, are not transferred and are typically caused by heredity, deficiencies in nutrition or factors involving the environment. Some noncommunicable diseases include
- Respiratory disorders
- Skin disorders
- Neurological disorders
- Cardiovascular Diseases and Disorders
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary (PULL-mun-ary) disease, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. “Progressive” means the disease gets worse over time.
- COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus (a slimy substance), wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.
- Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust, also may contribute to COPD.
- COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a major cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD. An additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t even know it.
Download this video titled COPD Learn More Breathe Better by clicking on Windows media or Quicktime below.
Profiling the personal experiences of three people diagnosed with COPD, this video answers basic questions about the disease and its risk factors, and demonstrates how real people took steps to manage the disease and breathe easier.
- Could you identify with any of the people in this video?
- What seems to be most helpful to these folks when it comes to managing their COPD?
- What did you learn that you didn’t already know before watching this video?
To understand COPD, it helps to understand how the lungs work. The air that you breathe goes down your windpipe into tubes in your lungs called bronchial tubes or airways.
The airways and air sacs are elastic (stretchy). When you breathe in, each air sac fills up with air like a small balloon. When you breathe out, the air sacs deflate and the air goes out.
In COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways because of one or more of the following:
- The airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality.
- The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed.
- The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed.
- The airways make more mucus than usual, which tends to clog them.
In the United States, the term “COPD” includes two main conditions—emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
In emphysema, the walls between many of the air sacs are damaged, causing them to lose their shape and become floppy. This damage also can destroy the walls of the air sacs, leading to fewer and larger air sacs instead of many tiny ones. If this happens, the amount of gas exchange in the lungs is reduced.
In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways is constantly irritated and inflamed. This causes the lining to thicken. Lots of thick mucus forms in the airways, making it hard to breathe. Most people who have COPD have both emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis. Thus, the general term “COPD” is more accurate.
- COPD is a major cause of disability, and it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD. Many more people may have the disease and not even know it.
- COPD develops slowly. Symptoms often worsen over time and can limit your ability to do routine activities. Severe COPD may prevent you from doing even basic activities like walking, cooking, or taking care of yourself.
- Most of the time, COPD is diagnosed in middle-aged or older people. The disease isn’t passed from person to person—you can’t catch it from someone else.
- COPD has no cure yet, and doctors don’t know how to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs. However, treatments and lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease.
How Can COPD Be Prevented?
You can take steps to prevent COPD before it starts. If you already have COPD, you can take steps to prevent complications and slow the progress of the disease.
Prevent COPD Before It Starts
The best way to prevent COPD is to not start smoking or to quit smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD.
Take an ungraded quiz about COPD.
Test your knowledge about the causes and symptoms of COPD. Learn how the disease affects the lungs and how you can prevent its complications.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.
Chronic bronchitis is one type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The inflamed bronchi produce a lot of mucus. This leads to cough and difficulty getting air in and out of the lungs. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause. Breathing in other fumes and dusts over a long period of time may also cause chronic bronchitis. Treatment will help your symptoms, but chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition that keeps coming back or never goes away completely.
Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) involving damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. As a result, your body does not get the oxygen it needs. Emphysema makes it hard to catch your breath. You may also have a chronic cough and have trouble breathing during exercise.
The most common cause is cigarette smoking. If you smoke, quitting can help prevent you from getting the disease. If you already have emphysema, not smoking might keep it from getting worse. Treatment is based on whether your symptoms are mild, moderate or severe. Treatments include inhalers, oxygen, medications and sometimes surgery to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways, making it hard to breathe. The disease affects people of all ages, but it most often starts in childhood. People who have asthma may wheeze, cough, feel short of breath, or have chest tightness.
Asthma can’t be cured, but it can be controlled. People who have asthma, or those who have children with asthma, can take an active role in their treatment. For example, they can work with their health care providers to create an asthma action plan. This plan gives guidance on taking medicines properly, avoiding asthma triggers, tracking levels of asthma control, responding to worsening symptoms, and seeking emergency care when needed. When asthma is well controlled, most people who have the disease are able to live normal, active lives.
Watch this video titled Living With and Managing Asthma.
This video—presented by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health—describes asthma, its signs and symptoms, and ways to manage the disease.
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. With Type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. With Type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood.
Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious problems. It can damage your eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Diabetes can also cause heart disease, stroke and even the need to remove a limb. Pregnant women can also get diabetes, called gestational diabetes.
A blood test can show if you have diabetes. Exercise, weight control and sticking to your meal plan can help control your diabetes. You should also monitor your glucose level and take medicine if prescribed.
Diabetes means your blood glucose, or blood sugar, is too high. With Type 1 diabetes, your pancreas does not make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. Without insulin, too much glucose stays in your blood. Over time, high blood glucose can lead to serious problems with your heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth.
Type 1 diabetes happens most often in children and young adults but can appear at any age. Symptoms may include
- Being very thirsty
- Urinating often
- Feeling very hungry or tired
- Losing weight without trying
- Having sores that heal slowly
- Having dry, itchy skin
- Losing the feeling in your feet or having tingling in your feet
- Having blurry eyesight
What are the most important things to do to prevent diabetes?
The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a major federally funded study of 3,234 people at high risk for diabetes, showed that people can delay and possibly prevent the disease by losing a small amount of weight (5 to 7 percent of total body weight) through 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week and healthier eating.
What are the risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing diabetes?
- Being overweight or obese.
- Having a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes.
- Being African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic American/Latino heritage.
- Having a prior history of gestational diabetes or birth of at least one baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- Having high blood pressure measuring 140/90 or higher.
- Having abnormal cholesterol with HDL (“good”) cholesterol is 35 or lower, or triglyceride level is 250 or higher.
- Being physically inactive—exercising fewer than three times a week.
How does body weight affect the likelihood of developing diabetes?
Being overweight or obese is a leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Being overweight can keep your body from making and using insulin properly, and can also cause high blood pressure. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a major federally funded study of 3,234 people at high risk for diabetes, showed that moderate diet and exercise of about 30 minutes or more, 5 or more days per week, or of 150 or more minutes per week, resulting in a 5% to 7% weight loss can delay and possibly prevent type 2 diabetes.
Oh my aching head! Nearly everyone has had a headache. The most common type of headache is a tension headache. Tension headaches are due to tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp and jaw. They are often related to stress, depression or anxiety. You are more likely to get tension headaches if you work too much, don’t get enough sleep, miss meals or use alcohol.
Other common types of headaches include migraines, cluster headaches and sinus headaches. Most people can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax and taking pain relievers.
Headaches can have many causes, but serious causes of headaches are rare. Sometimes headaches warn of a more serious disorder. Let your health care provider know if you have sudden, severe headaches. Get medical help right away if you have a headache after a blow to your head, or if you have a headache along with a stiff neck, fever, confusion, loss of consciousness or pain in the eye or ear.
A migraine is a very painful type of headache. People who get migraines often describe the pain as pulsing or throbbing in one area of the head. During migraines, people are very sensitive to light and sound. They may also become nauseated and vomit.
Migraine is three times more common in women than in men. Some people can tell when they are about to have a migraine because they see flashing lights or zigzag lines or they temporarily lose their vision.
Many things can trigger a migraine. These include
- Lack of food or sleep
- Exposure to light
- Hormonal changes (in women)
Doctors used to believe migraines were linked to the opening and narrowing of blood vessels in the head. Now they believe the cause is related to genes that control the activity of some brain cells. Medicines can help prevent migraine attacks or help relieve symptoms of attacks when they happen. For many people, treatments to relieve stress can also help.
If you feel pain and stiffness in your body or have trouble moving around, you might have arthritis. Most kinds of arthritis cause pain and swelling in your joints. Joints are places where two bones meet, such as your elbow or knee. Over time, a swollen joint can become severely damaged. Some kinds of arthritis can also cause problems in your organs, such as your eyes or skin.
One type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is often related to aging or to an injury. Other types occur when your immune system, which normally protects your body from infection, attacks your body’s own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of this kind of arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a form of the disease that happens in children. Infectious arthritis is an infection that has spread from another part of the body to the joint.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It causes pain, swelling and reduced motion in your joints. It can occur in any joint, but usually it affects your hands, knees, hips or spine.
Osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage in your joints. Cartilage is the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. Healthy cartilage absorbs the shock of movement. When you lose cartilage, your bones rub together. Over time, this rubbing can permanently damage the joint. Factors that may cause osteoarthritis include
- Being overweight
- Getting older
- Injuring a joint
Therapies that manage osteoarthritis pain and improve function include exercise, weight control, rest, pain relief, alternative therapies, and surgery.
Did you know that your skin is the largest organ of your body? It is, in terms of both weight, between 6 and 9 pounds, and surface area, about 2 square yards. Your skin separates the inside of your body from the outside world. Skin:
- Protects you from bacteria and viruses that can cause infections
- Helps you sense the outside world, such as whether it is hot or cold, wet or dry
- Regulates your body temperature
Conditions that irritate, clog or inflame your skin can cause symptoms such as redness, swelling, burning and itching. Allergies, irritants, your genetic makeup and certain diseases and immune system problems can cause dermatitis, hives and other skin conditions. Many skin problems, such as acne, also affect your appearance.
A rash is an area of irritated or swollen skin. It might be red and itchy, bumpy, scaly, crusty or blistered. Rashes are a symptom of many different medical conditions. Things that can cause a rash include other diseases, irritating substances, allergies, and your genetic makeup.
Contact dermatitis is a common cause of rashes. It causes redness, itching and burning where you have touched an irritant, such as a chemical, or something you are allergic to, like poison ivy.
Some rashes develop immediately. Others form over several days. If you scratch your rash, it might take longer to heal. The treatment for a rash usually depends on its cause. Options include moisturizers, lotions, baths, cortisone creams that relieve swelling, and antihistamines, which relieve itching.
Hives are red and sometimes itchy bumps on your skin. An allergic reaction to a drug or food usually causes them. Allergic reactions cause your body to release chemicals that can make your skin swell up in hives. People who have other allergies are more likely to get hives than other people. Other causes include infections and stress.
Hives are very common. They usually go away on their own, but if you have a serious case, you might need medicine or a shot. In rare cases, allergic reactions can cause a dangerous swelling in your airways, making it hard to breathe – which is a medical emergency.
Acne is a common skin disease that causes pimples. Pimples form when hair follicles under your skin clog up. Most pimples form on the face, neck, back, chest and shoulders. Anyone can get acne, but it is common in teenagers and young adults. It is not serious, but it can cause scars.
No one knows exactly what causes acne. Hormone changes, such as those during the teenage years and pregnancy, probably play a role. There are many myths about what causes acne. Chocolate and greasy foods are often blamed, but there is little evidence that foods have much effect on acne in most people. Another common myth is that dirty skin causes acne; however, blackheads and pimples are not caused by dirt. Stress doesn’t cause acne, but stress can make it worse.
If you have acne
- Clean your skin gently
- Try not to touch your skin
- Avoid the sun
Treatments for acne include medicines and creams.
Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by the microscopic mite Sarcoptes scabei. It is common all over the world, and it affects people of all races and social classes. Scabies spreads quickly in crowded conditions where there is frequent skin-to-skin contact between people. Hospitals, child-care centers and nursing homes are examples. Scabies can easily infect sex partners and other household members. Sharing clothes, towels, and bedding can also spread scabies. You cannot get scabies from a pet. Pets get a different mite infection called mange.
- Pimple-like irritations or a rash
- Intense itching, especially at night
- Sores caused by scratching
Several lotions are available to treat scabies. The infected person’s clothes, bedding and towels should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer.
Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. You usually get them on your elbows, knees, scalp, back, face, palms and feet, but they can show up on other parts of your body. A problem with your immune system causes psoriasis. In a process called cell turnover, skin cells that grow deep in your skin rise to the surface. Normally, this takes a month. In psoriasis, it happens in just days because your cells rise too fast.
Psoriasis can last a long time, even a lifetime. Symptoms come and go. Things that make them worse include
- Dry skin
- Certain medicines
Psoriasis usually occurs in adults. It sometimes runs in families. Treatments include creams, medications and light therapy.
Neurological disorders include:
- Diseases caused by faulty genes, such as Huntington’s disease and muscular dystrophy
- Problems with the way the nervous system develops, such as spina bifida
- Degenerative diseases, where nerve cells are damaged or die, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
- Injuries to the spinal cord and brain
- Seizure disorders, such as epilepsy
- Cancer, such as brain tumors
Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited disease that causes certain nerve cells in the brain to waste away. People are born with the defective gene, but symptoms usually don’t appear until middle age. Early symptoms of HD may include uncontrolled movements, clumsiness or balance problems. Later, HD can take away the ability to walk, talk or swallow. Some people stop recognizing family members. Others are aware of their environment and are able to express emotions. If one of your parents has Huntington’s disease, you have a 50-50 chance of getting it. A blood test can tell if you have the HD gene and will develop the disease. Genetic counseling can help you weigh the risks and benefits of taking the test. There is no cure. Medicines can help manage some of the symptoms, but cannot slow down or stop the disease.
Muscular dystrophy (MD) refers to a group of more than 30 inherited diseases that cause muscle weakness and muscle loss. Some forms of MD appear in infancy or childhood, while others may not appear until middle age or later. The different muscular dystrophies vary in who they affect and the symptoms. All forms of MD grow worse as the person’s muscles get weaker. Most people with MD eventually lose the ability to walk.
There is no cure for muscular dystrophy. Treatments include physical and speech therapy, orthopedic devices, surgery and medications. Some people with muscular dystrophy have mild cases that worsen slowly. Other cases are disabling and severe.
Spina bifida is the most common disabling birth defect in the United States. It is a type of neural tube defect, which is a problem with the spinal cord or its coverings. It happens if the fetal spinal column doesn’t close completely during the first month of pregnancy. There is usually nerve damage that causes at least some paralysis of the legs. Many people with spina bifida will need assistive devices such as braces, crutches or wheelchairs. They may have learning difficulties, urinary and bowel problems or hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain.
There is no cure. Treatments focus on the complications, and can include surgery, medicine and physiotherapy. Taking folic acid can reduce the risk of having a baby with spina bifida. It’s in most multivitamins. Women who could become pregnant should take it daily.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that affects nerve cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain that controls muscle movement. In Parkinson’s, neurons that make a chemical called dopamine die or do not work properly. Dopamine normally sends signals that help coordinate your movements. No one knows what damages these cells. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may include
- Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
- Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk
- Slowness of movement
- Poor balance and coordination
As symptoms get worse, people with the disease may have trouble walking, talking or doing simple tasks. They may also have problems such as depression, sleep problems or trouble chewing, swallowing or speaking.
Parkinson’s usually begins around age 60, but it can start earlier. It is more common in men than in women. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. A variety of medicines sometimes help symptoms dramatically.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia among older people. Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.
AD begins slowly. It first involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. People with AD may have trouble remembering things that happened recently or names of people they know. A related problem, mild cognitive impairment(MCI), causes more memory problems than normal for people of the same age. Many, but not all, people with MCI will develop AD.
In AD, over time, symptoms get worse. People may not recognize family members or have trouble speaking, reading or writing. They may forget how to brush their teeth or comb their hair. Later on, they may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Eventually, they need total care. This can cause great stress for family members who must care for them.
AD usually begins after age 60. The risk goes up as you get older. Your risk is also higher if a family member has had the disease.
No treatment can stop the disease. However, some drugs may help keep symptoms from getting worse for a limited time.
Spinal Cord Injury
Your spinal cord is the part of your nervous system that relays messages to and from your brain. It is housed inside your vertebrae, which are the bone disks that make up your spine. Normally, your vertebrae protect your spinal cord. If they don’t, you can sustain a spinal cord injury. Besides injuries, the spinal cord can develop
- Infections such as meningitis and poliomyelitis
- Inflammatory diseases
- Autoimmune diseases
- Degenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy
Symptoms vary but might include pain, numbness, loss of sensation and muscle weakness. These symptoms can occur around the spinal cord, and also in other areas such as your arms and legs. Treatments vary but often include medicines and surgery.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes people to have recurring seizures. The seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain send out the wrong signals. People may have strange sensations and emotions or behave strangely. They may have violent muscle spasms or lose consciousness.
Epilepsy has many possible causes, including illness, brain injury and abnormal brain development. In many cases, the cause is unknown.
Doctors use brain scans and other tests to diagnose epilepsy. It is important to start treatment right away. There is no cure for epilepsy, but medicines can control seizures for most people. When medicines are not working well, surgery or implanted devices such as vagus nerve stimulators may help. Special diets can help some children with epilepsy.
Meningitis is inflammation of the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. There are several types of meningitis. The most common is viral meningitis, which you get when a virus enters the body through the nose or mouth and travels to the brain. Bacterial meningitis is rare, but can be deadly. It usually starts with bacteria that cause a cold-like infection. It can block blood vessels in the brain and lead to stroke and brain damage. It can also harm other organs. Pneumococcal infections and meningococcal infections can cause bacterial meningitis.
Anyone can get meningitis, but it is more common in people whose bodies have trouble fighting infections. Meningitis can progress rapidly. You should seek medical care quickly if you have
- A sudden fever
- A severe headache
- A stiff neck
Early treatment can help prevent serious problems, including death. Vaccines can prevent some of the bacterial infections that cause meningitis. Parents of adolescents and students living in college dorms should talk to a doctor about the vaccination.
Learning Activity: What disease are you most afraid to get?
Click on Most Feared Diseases to compare your answer with others.
Chronic Bronchitis: NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute via MedlinePlus.gov
Emphysema: NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute via MedlinePlus.gov
Diabetes: NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases via MedlinePlus
Headache: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke via MedlinePlus.gov
Arthritis: NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases via MedlinePlus.gov
Skin Disorders: Skin Disorders, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, NIH, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/skinconditions.html
Neurological Disorders: Neurological Disorders, NLM, NIH, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/neurologicdiseases.html
Huntington’s Disease: Huntington’s Disease, NIH, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/huntingtonsdisease.html
Muscular Dystrophy: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke via MedlinePlus.gov
Spina Bifida: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke via MedlinePlus.gov
Parkinson’s Disease: MedlinePlus.gov
Spinal Cord Injury: MedlinePlus.gov
Epilepsy: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke via MedlinePlus.gov
Meningitis: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke via MedlinePlus.gov