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The Most Common Chronic Diseases In Singapore: What You Need To Know

by Dr Wenus Ho
Friday, November 20, 2020

Overview

Chronic diseases are medical conditions that last 1 year or more. They will require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. 

Conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes are common chronic diseases in Singapore, and risk behaviours relating to lifestyle can contribute the development of these conditions: 

  • Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Poor nutrition, including diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in sodium and saturated fats
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Excessive alcohol use

As chronic diseases are progressive, they can affect the quality of life and be a financial burden on their loved ones.

Common Chronic Diseases in Singapore

Globally, chronic diseases are significant causes of disability and death. In Singapore, common chronic diseases that affect Singaporeans include hypertension, diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)​​​

Hypertension or high blood pressure refers to the condition in which blood is pumped around the body at an abnormally high pressure.

Blood pressure (BP) is described by two numbers and is represented in mmHg (millimetres of mercury), a measure of pressure. For instance, a BP of 120/80 means that the systolic BP is 120mmHg while the diastolic BP is 80mmHg.

You can be considered pre-hypertensive if your systolic BP is 130 – 139mmHg and your diastolic BP is 80-89mmHg. At this stage, you would generally be advised to modify your lifestyle to control the blood pressure.

You will be diagnosed with hypertension if your systolic BP is 140mmHg or more, your diastolic BP is 90mmHg or more, or both. In Singapore, almost 22% from 30 to 69 years old have hypertension. 

Causes and Risk Factors

In 95% of cases, the cause of hypertension is unknown. In the rest, hypertension may be caused by kidney disease, the narrowing of certain blood vessels or other systemic illnesses.

Risk factors that increase the chances of developing hypertension include obesity and diabetes.

Diabetes Mellitus​​

Diabetes is a condition in which the blood glucose levels in the body remain persistently higher than normal. In Singapore, 9% of Singapore residents aged 18 to 69 years old are affected by diabetes1.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows your body cells to use blood glucose (sugar) for energy. Firstly, carbohydrates are converted into glucose before they are absorbed into our bloodstream. Examples of food rich in carbohydrates include rice, pasta, and bread. The pancreas then releases insulin to move the glucose from the bloodstream into the body cells for use or storage. 

People with diabetes are unable to fully utilize the glucose in their bloodstream because they either lack insulin in the body or their body cells have developed resistance to insulin.

Types of Diabetes

There are 3 major types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin due to damaged pancreatic cells. It is typically diagnosed in children or young adults although it can occur at any age.

Hence, insulin is required for treatment.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the insulin produced is not enough or not effective (if the body cells develop resistance to insulin). It occurs more frequently in people above 40 years old, particularly those who are overweight and physically inactive.

It can be controlled with proper diet and exercise. However, most diabetics also require oral medication.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in about 2-5% of all pregnancies. It typically affects women who were not diagnosed to have diabetes previously.

While blood sugar usually returns to normal levels after delivery of the baby, 50% of the mothers develop Type 2 Diabetes after delivery. These mothers are advised to lower their risk by achieving a healthy body weight after delivery.

High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia)

High cholesterol is a condition in which fatty deposits develop in your blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits grow, making it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. 

Occasionally, these deposits can break, forming a clot that can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Close to 34% of Singapore residents have raised cholesterol1. This has increased by 8% over 7 years.

Causes and Risk Factors

Cholesterol is carried through your body, attached to protein. This combination of proteins and cholesterol is called a lipoprotein. 

There are 2 types of lipoproteins:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.

High cholesterol can be inherited, but is often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices which make it preventable and treatable.

Factors that can increase the risk of “bad” cholesterol include:

  • Poor diet: Eating saturated fats (found in animal products) and trans fats (found in commercially baked cookies, crackers, etc.) can raise your cholesterol level. Other foods high in cholesterol such as red meat and full-fat dairy products could also increase your cholesterol level.
  • Obesity: Having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of developing high cholesterol.
  • Lack of exercise: Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL (“good” cholesterol).
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them more prone to accumulate fatty deposits.
  • Age: Your risk of developing high cholesterol increases as you age. For instance, your liver becomes less able to remove LDL cholesterol.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)​​

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a term used to refer to chronic respiratory diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In these conditions, there is an obstruction to airflow in the airway of the lungs, thus causing breathing difficulties.

In chronic bronchitis, there is persistent inflammation of the airways (bronchi) of the lungs. Meanwhile, in emphysema, there is damage to the smaller airways (bronchioles) and air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. Most people with COPD have a mix of both these conditions.

Causes and Risk Factors

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. It damages the air sacs, airways and the lining of your lungs. Injured lungs have trouble moving air in and out, making it hard to breathe.

Air pollution including polluted work conditions may also contribute or worsen COPD.

The Role of Health Screening 

While many of these chronic diseases don’t show any symptoms, especially in their early stages, they can result in disabling and life-threatening complications. Hence, health screening is imperative as it can help you find out if you have a medical condition even if you don’t display any signs or symptoms. 

For particular conditions, health screening can even help prevent them from happening in the first place. This is done through discovering and treating any abnormalities that could later develop into a disease.

Early detection and treatment can help you take control of your health and change the prognosis of the disease. Prioritize your health and book a health screening appointment with us today.

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