Chronic Disease Prevention and Management

Chronic disease is any condition that requires ongoing management, cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medicines. Examples of chronic conditions include, but are not limited to: high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), dementia, and depression.

Approximately 61 per cent of New Brunswickers live with one chronic condition, and 20 per cent live with three or more chronic conditions. Chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problem facing New Brunswickers. (NB Health Council, 2016)

Chronic disease prevention and management is an approach to health care that focuses on helping individuals maintain independence and staying as healthy as possible through early detection, prevention, and management of chronic conditions.

Chronic disease can impact a person’s ability to perform daily activities, emotional or mental well-being, and quality of life. Many chronic conditions can be minimized or controlled through the prevention and/or management of risk factors, unhealthy behaviours or symptoms.

Types of Chronic Diseases

Chronic diseases can include:

Arthritis is a term used to describe a group of over 100 diseases characterized by inflammation in the joints or other areas of the body. Inflammation is a medical term that describes redness and swelling which causes pain and, when in the joints, can also cause stiffness. Left unchecked, inflammation can lead to significant and often irreparable damage to the affected areas, resulting in loss of function and disability.

Arthritis most often affects the hips, knees, spine or other weight-bearing joints, but also found in the fingers and other non-weight-bearing joints. Some forms of arthritis can also affect other parts of the body.

Arthritis is a chronic condition; it affects people on an ongoing, constant or recurring basis over months, years, even a lifetime. Arthritis conditions are grouped into two broad categories: osteoarthritis or inflammatory arthritis.

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Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects the airways within the lungs. Symptoms can include: wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. The symptoms of asthma may happen infrequently, or they may be present every day.

Asthma cannot be cured, but symptoms can be controlled by reducing exposure to triggers that affect the airways of the lungs, and through proper use of medications.

An asthma trigger can be an allergen or an irritant. An allergen is something that causes an allergic reaction in the body. Some examples of allergens include: furry pets, dust mites, pollens, molds, air pollution. Irritants are things that you’re not allergic to, but that bother your airways and cause narrowing or tightening. Some common irritants include: cigarette smoke, cold or hot humid air, strong smells, such as perfume or chemical fumes, the cold virus or a chest infection. Not everyone with asthma reacts to the same triggers. The key is to figure out what triggers your asthma symptoms and then avoid those things as much as possible.

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Our bodies are made up of many cells. Normally, our cells stay healthy but sometimes abnormal cells grow and divide which can form a lump in the body called a tumour.

Some types of tumours are non-cancerous (benign). Non-cancerous tumours have cells that stay in one place and don’t spread. Non-cancerous tumours also don’t usually come back after they are removed. Other types of tumours are cancerous (malignant). Cancerous tumours can grow into nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.

It’s important to find cancer as early as possible, when it is usually smaller and easier to treat and there’s less chance that the cancer has spread.

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic disease characterized by shortness of breath, cough and mucus that may be white, yellow or green in colour. While symptoms of the disease do not usually appear in people younger than age 55 years, changes to the lung begin many years earlier. COPD is an umbrella term for a number of diseases which include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

COPD progresses slowly over a period of years. As the disease advances, shortness of breath limits the activity levels of individuals and reduces their quality of life. Several modifiable risk factors contribute to COPD. In 80 per cent of COPD cases, cigarette smoking/vaping is the principal underlying cause. Other risk factors can include dust, air pollution, repeated childhood respiratory infections.

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Diabetes is a chronic condition that stems from the body’s inability to adequately produce and/or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin’s role is to regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The body needs to use glucose(sugar) as an energy source. Diabetes can lead to serious complications but those who have diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications.

There are three major types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes are not able to produce their own insulin or regulate their blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, most commonly developed in adulthood. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with healthy eating and regular exercise alone but may also require medications or insulin therapy. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and is usually temporary. In addition, prediabetes indicates the person has higher levels blood glucose and may be at risk of developing diabetes.

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Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. A person with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behaviour.

Dementia is a progressive condition, meaning symptoms will gradually get worse over time. People with dementia can live meaningful and productive lives for many years after an early diagnosis. Dementia diagnosed early helps both the person and family members to learn about the disease, set realistic expectations and plan for their future together.

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Depression is a mental illness that affects a person’s mood-the way a person feels. Mood impacts the way people think about themselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around them.

Signs of depression include feeling sad, worthless, hopeless, guilty, or anxious a lot of the time. Some feel irritable or angry. People lose interest in things they used to enjoy and may withdraw from others. Depression can make it hard to focus on tasks and remember information. It can be hard to concentrate, learn new things, or make decisions.

Depression can change the way people eat and sleep, and many people experience physical health problems such as fatigue, stomach complaints, or muscle and joint pain.

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Heart diseases affect blood flow through the body, which include the heart and blood vessels to the: brain, lungs, kidneys, and other parts of your body. There are different types of heart diseases, including:

1. Coronary artery disease is due to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Coronary artery disease happens when the arteries in your heart are narrowed or blocked. It’s the most common kind of heart disease and causes most heart attacks as well as angina (chest pain).

2. Heart failure is a serious condition that develops after the heart becomes damaged or weakened. The two most common causes of heart failure are heart attack and high blood pressure. There is no cure, but early diagnosis, lifestyle changes and medication can help people lead an active life, stay out of hospital and live longer.

3. Heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) cause the heart to beat too slowly, too quickly or in a disorganized fashion.

4. Structural heart disease (heart defects) refers to abnormal defects of the heart that can involve the valves, walls, muscles or blood vessels near the heart. It can be present at birth (congenital) or acquired after birth through infection, wear and tear, or other factors. People living with heart defects and their families need support throughout every age and stage of their life, often requiring ongoing medical care and surgical procedures.

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High blood pressure is when the blood pressure in your arteries is elevated and your heart has to work harder than normal to pump blood through the blood vessels. Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure or force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels (known as arteries). Your blood pressure reading is based on two measures called systolic and diastolic. The systolic (top) number is the measure of the pressure force when your heart contracts and pushes out the blood. The diastolic (bottom) number is the measure of when your heart relaxes between beats. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease.

A blood pressure reading of 120/80 is considered low risk for stroke or heart disease. A person’s blood pressure greater than 140+/90 is considered high risk for stroke or heart disease.

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Obesity is considered a chronic disease because it can be a lifelong process. One in four adults and one in 10 children in Canada are now living with excess weight or obesity. The most common approach to measuring obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by their height.

Obesity is a complex illness caused by a number of different factors, including environment, genes, emotional health, lack of sleep, medical problems or even some medications. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important in reducing the risk of chronic diseases and improving overall health.

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A stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of your brain, damaging brain cells. The effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that is damaged and the amount of damage. A stroke can happen when a blood vessel in the brain tears, causing bleeding in the brain, or a blood clot (thickened blood) travels to the brain stopping the flow of blood to brain cells. A blood clot is the most common cause for stroke.

Nine in ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for stroke. Almost 80 per cent of premature stroke can be prevented by having healthy behaviours such as eating healthy, being active and living smoke free.

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Information of other chronic diseases can be found at:

Are you at risk?

Click on the links below to access tools for evaluating your risk for developing the following chronic conditions and knowledge of related factors.

Chronic Disease Prevention

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified that key health-related factors can contribute to the development of chronic disease. Therefore, by reducing the following health-related factors one can help to prevent or reduce the effects of chronic disease:

Horizon Services and Programs

Horizon has a variety of services and programs to help individuals maintain wellness and prevent the development of chronic conditions, as well as services and programs to assist in the management of chronic conditions.