Regular check-ups with your GP are the best way to maintain your health and ensure early detection of illness.
Our health influences our state of mind and equally, our state of mind influences our health.
The National Health Survey 2020-21 was collected online during the first year of the pandemic and revealed 49% of women and 43.9% of men had at least one chronic health condition.
And it also revealed 20.7% of women and 16.4% of men had at least two chronic health conditions.
A chronic condition is defined as one expected to last six months or longer but the reality is many remain with people all their lives.
And while many of these conditions are not immediately life threatening, they tend to become more problematic as we age, particularly in tandem with a second or multiple chronic conditions.
Below we detail the 10 most common chronic health conditions and the symptoms to look out for.
Mental and behavioural conditions – 20.1%
This covers a wide range of illnesses from anxiety to psychosis and substance abuse.
It is no surprise this condition rose to become Australia’s most common chronic condition during the challenges associated with the pandemic.
Feelings of sadness, confusion, withdrawal, fear and trouble sleeping may all be indicative of a mental condition.
Awareness and acceptance in the community has never been greater and medical and psychological treatments usually have positive outcomes.
Back problems – 15.7%
One of the leading causes of working days lost, back pain is a chronic condition for nearly one in six Australians.
A damaged spine can cause so many different and varying symptoms ranging from low-grade muscle pain to excruciating stabbing sensations which can radiate down legs and make simple tasks like walking almost impossible.
Always see your doctor if pain doesn’t resolve in a couple of weeks or is accompanied by numbness, tingling or unexplained weight loss.
Arthritis – 12.5%
A condition that tends to worsen with age, one in eight Australians live with arthritis.
It is swelling or pain in any number of joints including but not limited to hands, fingers, back, neck and even muscles.
The main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis which is the break down of cartilage and rheumatoid arthritis which is when the immune system attacks the joints.
Anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids are the frontline treatments along with physical therapy which all help reduce the symptoms.
Asthma – 10.7%
Affecting almost one in nine Australians, asthma is a condition which is manageable but which still accounts for around 400 deaths per year.
It is the narrowing or swelling of airways and is marked by shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
The impact of the disease is variable and can come and go over a lifetime.
Diabetes – 5.3%
Diabetes can occur as blood sugars rise beyond the normal range, due to reduction of insulin production by the pancreas.
It is comprised of Type 1 and the much more common Type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms range from tiredness, thirst, itchy skin, loss of weight and a constant need to urinate.
The disease is often managed with prescribed medications and a range of lifestyle adjustments, including changes to diet and exercise.
Heart, stroke and vascular disease – 4.0%
Regular check-ups are the best way to guard against these diseases which often result in sudden death but can be prevented and treated in advance with the benefit of foresight.
Pain in the back, arms, neck, jaw or even stomach can be indicative of one of these diseases and should be quickly acted upon.
But even with no prevailing symptoms, there is no substitute for a heart check, especially if there has been disease in your family.
Osteoporosis – 3.6%
A condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle, recurring broken bones, back pain, loss of height or a stopped posture are all indications of potential osteoporosis.
White and Asian post-menopausal women are the highest risk group.
A bone density scan will be ordered with bisphosphonates normally prescribed to aid in strengthening of bones and to prevent further fractures.
Cancer – 1.6%
Cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases where cells multiply uncontrollably and spread throughout the body.
Genetic and lifestyle or environmental factors are the leading causes.
Lumps, fatigue and weight changes are among the biggest early warning signs.
Like heart disease, regular screening, especially for those in particular risk groups, is imperative.
It allows early detection and intervention and very often successful outcomes.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – 1.5%
These are any diseases that block airflow with emphysema and chronic bronchitis the leading pair.
Like asthma, shortness of breath, wheezing and chronic coughing tend to be the most common symptoms.
Smoking is the primary cause of COPD and while lung damage cannot be reversed, inhalers and oral steroids can help prevent further deterioration. Stopping smoking is the single most beneficial treatment for COPD and will reduce the progress of the disease.
Kidney disease – 1.1%
Chronic kidney disease involves a gradual loss of kidney function and is often indicated by muscle cramps, loss of appetite, vomiting, trouble sleeping, itchy skin, shortness of breath and urinary changes.
Some kidney disease can be treated, others have no cure.
Book an appointment
Chronic health conditions are a fact of life for many Australians.
The key takeaway is that most are treatable and many are preventable with regular visits to your GP.
This is even more important to observe as you age, or if you carry certain risk factors.
And if you feel you have any signs or symptoms, don’t delay, book an appointment.
It may save your life!