Kenyans have become more aware about preventive medicine. Most of us want to know, ‘What is likely to kill me?’, ‘Can I avoid it?’ To answer this question, let us look at the potentially devastating health conditions.
What are the top killers?
The top killers worldwide are heart attacks (ischemic heart disease) and stroke, according to the World Health Organisation. Lung diseases such as pneumonia (chest infection), chronic obstructive lung disease, cancers of the lung, breast and cervix, poorly controlled diabetes also kill millions of people worldwide.
Interestingly, deaths related to dementia are among the top 10 worldwide. HIV/Aids deaths have dropped dramatically and it is no longer among the top 10 killers but tuberculosis is still a leading cause of death.
Sadly, preventable diseases such as diarrhoea are still devastating, especially in developing nations. Road traffic accidents round up the list of top killers globally and about three quarters of those who die are men and boys.
Malaria is still not under control in low-income countries despite the leaps made in treatment and prevention.
Birth related complications are also a challenge and causes many deaths in women and babies. What are the top killer diseases in Kenya?
As a lower middle-income country, Kenya is still struggling with birth related complications but are increasingly dying from the following diseases.
Ischemic Heart Disease
This is the technical term for a heart attack. It is caused by poor blood supply to the heart muscles. It has been associated with abnormally high levels of bad cholesterol, poorly controlled high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Although heart attacks tend to occur after 45, it is not unheard of to get a heart attack in your 20s.
How to avoid a heart attack
You can prevent a heart attack. Almost all underlying factors that lead to a heart attack are controllable.
•Change your lifestyle.
•Eat foods that have low levels of bad cholesterol. (Remember, not all cholesterol is bad.)
•Keep consumption of animal products to a minimum.
•Limit alcohol intake.
•Exercise for at least 150 minutes in a week.
•Keep your diabetes and high blood pressure under control.
•Once you are over 40 years, go for an annual wellness check-up. This check-up will help screen for risk factors for heart attack and help you prevent it.
Stroke occurs due to reduced blood supply to the brain or bleeding into the brain. Although a stroke can occur at any age, majority of people get them after 50 years and they tend to be more common in men. A stroke can also occur after a head injury.
How to avoid a stroke
Contrary to popular belief, most strokes are preventable. The risk factors for getting a stroke are very similar to those for getting a heart attack. They include:
•Poorly controlled high blood pressure
• High levels of bad cholesterol
Chest infections and diarrhoea
Chest infection (pneumonia) is still the leading killer in children and the elderly. Usually, most people go to hospitals with difficulty in breathing, cough and fever.
Most chest infections are caused by bacteria or viruses. Prompt treatment saves lives but often most of Kenyans arrive to hospitals too late.
Diarrhoea can be deadly in children.
Although, currently there are concerns about cholera, most diarrheal infections in Kenyan children are due to viruses.
How to avoid killer infections
There are vaccines to help prevent chest infections, flu and diarrhoea. Ideally, all children and people over 60 years should be vaccinated against chest infections. In addition to vaccination, simple hand washing and good hygiene goes a long way in preventing these diseases.
Diabetes can occur at any age (from infancy to the elderly). In children, it is due to lack of a special chemical in the body known as insulin. Insulin is vital in the breakdown of sugar in the body.
In adults, diabetes occurs when the body does not respond to insulin and the disease may run in families. Diabetes can destroy the kidneys, vision, sexual function, digestive function and put you at risk of getting stroke and heart attack. It is also one of the leading causes of limb amputation in adults.
How to reduce chances of getting diabetes
Unfortunately, Type 1 diabetes which affects children cannot be prevented. However, diabetes that develops in adulthood (Type 2) may be avoided. Doctors are also seeing children with Type 2 diabetes which is being fuelled by poor feeding habits and sedentary lifestyle.
Usually, there is a pre-diabetes phase. This phase acts as a warning that one is going to develop diabetes. A check up by your doctor can help assess for this. Those in pre-diabetic phase can prevent the development of full-blown disease by changing their lifestyles. Reduce weight, exercise and change your diet. If you are already diabetic, keep the disease under control, you can live to a ripe old age with the disease.
TB carries a lot of stigma, preventing its eradication. It has wrongly been labelled as the hallmark of HIV infection. It is not. Anyone can get TB. In addition, it can affect any organ (lungs, intestines, brain, reproductive organs, backbone etc).
Best strategy against TB
Vaccination against tuberculosis works best. However, the best strategy is to seek treatment promptly should you begin to get unusual night sweats, a persistent cough or unexpected weight loss. TB of other organs presents differently (intestines — abdominal pain, brain — headaches, psychosis and seizures, backbone — back pain and even weakness of the legs). Remember, TB has a cure.
Road traffic accidents
In Kenya, we are far from losing the battle against deaths caused by accidents. In most hospitals, a majority of patients admitted due to road accidents are men. Boda boda usage and failure to use seat belts have led to the worst injuries.
This is the single most dangerous lifestyle habit. It is associated with long-term permanent lung damage, multiple types of cancer, heart attack, stroke, pregnancy complications and poor circulation. You cannot smoke and expect to be healthy. It is that simple.