Chronic diseases are diseases that last a long time, cannot be completely cured and therefore often require repeated treatment. They include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, dementia, chronic respiratory conditions and diabetes.
Chronic diseases are some of the leading causes of death worldwide, with the global demographic development playing a major role in this. Chronic diseases tend to occur primarily in the elderly and often concurrently (known as comorbidity). Since chronic diseases occur more frequently in later life and the population is ageing overall, these diseases are becoming more significant in economic terms as they swallow up ever more resources in addition to causing suffering for patients and their families. A large proportion of expenditure in the healthcare system is due to the direct costs of treating chronic diseases and caring for people with such diseases.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, cardiovascular diseases were the most common cause of death and the third most common reason for hospitalisation in Switzerland in 2016.
Various risk factors are responsible for cardiovascular diseases. There are factors that cannot be influenced, such as hereditary predisposition. Others are dependent on the individual’s behaviour. These include insufficient physical activity, an unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. Further research is still needed in order to identify the precise relationships between risk factors, environment and disease processes and to develop optimised therapies.
There are various forms of diabetes, a condition that involves an excessively high level of blood glucose, also known as hyperglycaemia. The two most important forms are type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Patients are often still very young when a diagnosis is made.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of all cases. Previously referred to as late-onset or adult-onset diabetes, younger people are increasingly developing this form nowadays, not least because the risk factors of excess weight and lack of physical activity may occur at an early age. These and other risk factors can lead to reduced sensitivity to insulin (insulin resistance) and subsequently to hyperglycaemia. As with cardiovascular diseases, the risk factors predisposing to type 2 diabetes can often be actively modified. Diabetes prevention programmes show that lifestyle changes can have a lasting positive effect. It is now also known, however, that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be increased by genetic predisposition.