Long Live Britain: how to beat the hidden killers

Dr Phil Hammond gives the lowdown on three diseases that kill 200,000 people in the UK each year – often with no symptoms

imagenotavailable1

TYPE 2 DIABETES

Advertisement

Who’s at risk?
The more overweight you are, the more at risk you are of Type 2 diabetes. As a simple test, your waist circumference — measured at the level of your belly button — should be half your height or less. Type 2 diabetes is up to six times more common in people of South Asian descent and up to three times more common among people of African and Afro-Caribbean origin.

What causes it?
In Type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells are unable to take up glucose from the bloodstream, causing the blood sugar level to become too high.

Give me the bad news
In the UK more than 3 million people have diabetes, and the rate is rising even faster than in the US (China and India top the table as diabetes capitals of the world). Around 850,000 of us in the UK are unaware we even have it, and many have no symptoms. Type 2 diabetes costs the NHS as estimated £1m an hour.

What if I ignore the facts…
Diabetes sufferers have a five-fold chance of developing heart disease and a two-fold increase in liver disease. Diabetes is also a common cause of preventable blindness, kidney failure, stroke, ulcers, impotence, infection and amputation.

What can I do?
Controlling diabetes dramatically reduces the risks. Most of us can avoid Type 2 by keeping to a healthy weight.


LIVER DISEASE

Who’s at risk?
It’s a disease of relatively younger age groups, with 90 per cent of people who die from it being under 70.

What causes it?
With the exception of the brain, the liver is the most complex organ in the body. The three main causes of liver disease are alcohol, obesity and viral hepatitis — all of which are preventable.

Alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic liver disease are both caused by excess calories and a build-up of fat in the liver. The difference lies in the source of the calories — food or alcohol.

The liver contains no nerve endings, so if we’re damaging our livers, we can’t feel it. Liver disease doesn’t usually cause any symptoms until the liver has been extensively damaged.

Give me the bad news
Up to 20 per cent of the population is at risk of developing some liver damage.

What if I ignore the facts…
Liver disease is increasing dramatically; it’s now Britain’s fifth biggest killer, with alcoholic liver disease accounting for more than a third of cases.

What can I do?
Drink within the recommended safe limits. Sensible weight loss is the best treatment for fatty liver disease. But beware — if you do it too quickly, you can make it worse!


CORONARY HEART DISEASE

Who’s at risk?
The gap between the sexes is narrowing: although the number of heart attacks is falling among men, it’s rising among middle-aged women. The risk of people of South Asian origin developing coronary heart disease is 50 per cent higher than the UK average.

What causes it?
The term cardiovascular disease (CVD) covers all diseases of the heart and circulation, from coronary heart disease (CHD) to strokes.

Heart disease is caused by the narrowing and hardening of the coronary artery walls as a result of a build-up of a waxy substance called plaque and a thickening of the muscle wall. Risk factors include smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Give me the bad news
CVD is Britain’s biggest killer, with CHD making up about half of these deaths — 82,000 a year. Every six minutes someone dies of a heart attack in the UK. Heart disease costs the UK economy more than £6.7 billion a year.

What if I ignore the facts…
CHD may go unnoticed right up until the point the sufferer has a heart attack or heart failure. If the plaque on the artery wall ruptures, it can completely block blood flow, which can lead to a section of heart muscle being cut off and beginning to die, causing a heart attack.

What can I do?
Stop smoking, eat healthily and exercise more. To calculate your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next ten years, go to www.qrisk.org.

Advertisement

Long Live Britain is on tonight at 9:00pm and 10:35pm on BBC1.