What is a noncommunicable disease?

A noncommunicable disease is a noninfectious health condition that cannot be spread from person to person. It also lasts for a long period of time. This is also known as a chronic disease.

A combination of genetic, physiological, lifestyle, and environmental factors can cause these diseases. Some risk factors include:

  • unhealthy diets
  • lack of physical activity
  • smoking and secondhand smoke
  • excessive use of alcohol

Noncommunicable diseases kill around 40 million people each year. This is about 70 percent of all deaths worldwide.

Noncommunicable diseases affect people belonging to all age groups, religions, and countries.

Noncommunicable diseases are often associated with older people. However, 15 million annual deaths from noncommunicable diseases occur among people aged 30 to 69.

More than 85 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries and in vulnerable communities where access to preventative healthcare is lacking.

Some noncommunicable diseases are more common than others. The four main types of noncommunicable diseases include cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.

Cardiovascular disease

Poor diet and physical inactivity can cause increased:

  • blood pressure
  • blood glucose
  • blood lipids
  • obesity

These conditions increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Some people are born with (genetically predisposed to have) certain cardiovascular conditions.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of noncommunicable disease deaths. Some common noncommunicable cardiovascular conditions and diseases include:


Cancer affects people of all ages, socioeconomic statuses, genders, and ethnicities. It’s the second most-common cause of noncommunicable disease death globally.

Some cancers cannot be avoided due to genetic risks. However, the World Health Organization estimates that 30 to 50 percent of cancers are preventable with adoption of healthy lifestyle choices.

Key steps in preventing disease include:

  • avoiding tobacco
  • limiting alcohol
  • getting immunized against cancer-causing infections

In 2015, nearly 1 of 6 deaths, globally, was caused by cancer.

The most common cancer deaths in men worldwide include:

  • lung
  • liver
  • stomach
  • colorectal
  • prostate

The most common cancer deaths in women worldwide include:

  • breast
  • lung
  • colorectal
  • cervical
  • stomach

Chronic respiratory disease

Chronic respiratory diseases are ailments affecting the airways and lung structures. Some of these diseases have a genetic basis.

However, other causes include lifestyle choices such as smoking and environmental conditions like exposure to air pollution, poor air quality, and poor ventilation.

While these diseases are incurable, they can be managed with medical treatment. The most common chronic respiratory diseases include:


Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar (glucose). It can also occur when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.

Some effects of diabetes include heart disease, vision loss, and kidney injury. If blood sugar levels are not controlled, diabetes can seriously damage other organs and systems in the body over time.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed during childhood or young adulthood. It’s the result of an immune system dysfunction.
  • Type 2 diabetes is often acquired during later adulthood. It’s typically the result of poor diet, inactivity, obesity, and other lifestyle and environmental factors.

Other types of diabetes include:

  • gestational diabetes, which causes elevated blood sugar in 3 to 8 percent of pregnant women in the United States
  • prediabetes, a condition defined by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels that lead to a very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the near future

The World Health Organization identifies noncommunicable diseases as a major public health concern and the leading cause of all deaths worldwide.

Many risks of noncommunicable diseases are preventable. These risk factors include:

  • physical inactivity
  • tobacco use
  • alcohol use
  • unhealthy diet (high in fat, processed sugar, and sodium, with little intake of fruits and vegetables)

Certain conditions, called metabolic risk factors, can lead to metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is linked to heart disease and diabetes. These conditions include:

  • raised blood pressure: 130/85 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher for either number or both
  • HDL (“good cholesterol”): less than 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) in men; less than 50 mg/dL in women
  • triglycerides: of 150 mg/dL or higher
  • fasting blood glucose levels: 100 mg/dL or higher
  • waist size: over 35 inches in women; over 40 inches in men

A person with these risk factors should address them through medical treatment and lifestyle modifications to lower the risks of developing a noncommunicable disease.

Risk factors a person can’t change include age, gender, race, and family history.

While noncommunicable diseases are long-term conditions that often can reduce one’s life expectancy, they can be managed with medical treatment and lifestyle changes.

If you are diagnosed with a noncommunicable disease, it’s important to stick to your treatment plan to ensure you stay as healthy as possible.