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Disease – what is it?

What is it?

Disease is an abnormal pathological process in which the structure and functions of an organ or tissue in the body changes and causes pain, disability or death.

It is important, however, to appreciate that there are two types of disease. The first is those conditions in which it is very clear who has the disease and who does not have the disease using a diagnostic test that distinguishes the two groups. Tuberculosis is an example of this, so too is rheumatoid arthritis.

The second type of condition is those in which some aspect of normal bodily function either increases or decreases to a level at which it causes harm. Type 2 diabetes is an example of this.  Everyone has a blood sugar. However, for some people blood sugar levels run too high, much higher than are needed for everyday life but so high that they cause complications in the kidneys, the eyes and the arteries.

It is also important to distinguish disease from ageing.  Many diseases do increase with age. 40 percent of 40 year old’s have one long-term condition, 50 percent of 50 year old’s have another, and so on through the decades, with, of course, an increasing proportion of people having more than one condition.

However, this is not because of ageing.

Many of these disease are due to having lived for a long time in a particular environment or with a particular lifestyle but ageing by itself is not a major cause of disease.

Why is disease important?

Disease is important because it either causes or increases the risk of pain, loss of function, disability, and sometimes premature death. It is therefore vitally important to reduce the risk of those diseases that can be prevented, or have their onset delayed, and for those other diseases that cannot be prevented to be diagnosed accurately and treated effectively.

Who is there to help?

For disease prevention there is a wide range of sources of information, perhaps the single best source is NHS Choices – www.nhs.uk.

Your local health centre or primary care team should also be able to give you either advice or signposts, and from the age of 45 everyone, apart from those people who already have long-term conditions, is offered a five yearly health check at which important risk factors for diseases can be identified.

In addition the NHS offers a range of different screening programmes to detect disease at an early asymptomatic stage.   Of course many diseases also require specialist help and one of the difficulties that people with more than one condition face is that they may  be looked after by more than one specialist team, sometimes in different hospitals, so an important principle is to remember that healthier is what you do for yourself.

What can I do?

Healthier is what you do for yourself. NHS delivers professional health services but the most important person in healthcare is the person formerly called the ‘patient’. The term ‘patient’ is less often used now and we more generally talk about the ‘person with Type 2 diabetes’ or the ‘person with rheumatoid arthritis’.

It is also known that friends and family play a vitally important part in supporting people with disease.

One of the most important things they can do is to remember that many of the effects that we have assumed are due to a disease are in fact due to inactivity and loss of fitness, so what you can do if a condition is diagnosed is to increase your fitness level and, having checked that it will not adversely affect the management of your condition. Get more active.

The benefits of activity are:

  • it may directly affect the disease itself for example activity has a direct beneficial effect on Type 2 diabetes;
  • activity reduces the risk of other diseases, for example of developing high blood pressure if you are told you have heart disease;
  • activity helps you feel better;
  • activity counteracts the loss of fitness that very commonly occurs when people are told ‘you have a long-term condition’..

Any information of a medical nature on this website is given to provide a general understanding of a medical condition or conditions.
No patient/doctor relationship is to be inferred and you should seek medical advice from a qualified practitioner.
Nothing on this site should be used as a substitute for competent advice from a qualified medical practitioner.

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