Kathleen Tracy | HealthGreatness

They are assassins, stalking their victims in the shadows for years, sometimes decades. When they finally make their presence known, the damage is already done. These are the silent killer diseases, conditions that do not produce obvious symptoms until they are in an advanced stage.

Silent killer diseases can be directly lethal or may lead to other potentially fatal conditions. While the body may be comprised of individual organs and systems, they are all interconnected to function as a whole so a disease that targets one organ or system ultimately impacts other body functions, making these silent killers that much more dangerous—and deadly.

• Heart disease is the number one silent killer disease. The main risk factors that contribute to this increased risk include – Hypertension, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and raised cholesterol

• Cancer, as a group, is a close second behind heart disease. For women, the top silent killers include cancers of the uterus, cervix, breast, and ovaries. For men it’s prostate, melanoma, and bladder. Colon and lung cancer are equal opportunity killers. In general, men are at greater risk to develop cancer than women, although once diagnosed, survival rates are similar.

• Diabetes, specifically adult-onset Type 2 diabetes, has become an epidemic. The condition occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas does not produce enough or any insulin. Type 2 diabetes is considered a lifestyle disease because it is usually brought on by external factors under the individual’s control.

• Obstructive sleep apnea is where a person stops breathing for a period of time during sleep. It is a risk factor for stroke, hypertension, and sudden death during sleep.

• Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can go undetected for years leading to a stroke or a heart attack.

What is most striking, and heartening, about these silent killers is that they are preventable and if caught early, they are by and large treatable. You can protect yourself from silent killer diseases by becoming more proactive with your health adopting these common sense lifestyle changes that will protect from every single silent killer listed here.

1.  Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is a factor for every one of the silent killers listed here. If you are obese, see your doctor to get on a supervised plan. If you one of the masses chronically trying to lose those extra 10-20 pounds, adjust your goals. Look to lose just one or two pounds every month or two. Over the course of a year, it adds up. And each single pound loss brings significant health benefits.

2. Exercise. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to make exercise a regular part of your weekly routine.  Again, you don’t need to train like an Olympian. A half hour walk three times a week provides many health benefits. And women especially should do weight-bearing exercises a couple times a week. They key to exercise is to mix it up. Hike, bike, take a class, walk in the morning or after sunset, pump some iron, so sprints on the elliptical—make each week a little different so it doesn’t become the same-old, same-old.

3. Stop smoking. Do whatever it takes. Within a day your body will start to recover and you will dramatically reduce the chance of developing heart disease, hypertension, and many types of cancer.

4. Eat more fresh food. It’s almost a cliché but increasing your intake of fresh vegetables and fruit gives the body the nutrients it needs to keep you healthy. Again, you don’t have to go vegan. Small changes will add up over the long-haul. Mixed berries with a dollop of whip cream for dessert instead of that piece of pie. Raw veggies and hummus instead of potato chips. Sautéed Brussels sprouts instead of mashed potatoes.

5. Be proactive. Get tested and screened regularly. Don’t be afraid of what you might find out, embrace it. The earlier any condition is caught, the odds for successful treatment goes up exponentially. If you don’t have insurance, check out local clinics or organizations like the American Cancer Society, which often host free screenings.