The most silent killers and how to avoid them

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Certain medical conditions can be extra frightening - they're deadly, they're common, and they are often overlooked until it's too late to intervene. Such missed diagnoses are characteristic of diseases often referred to as "silent killers." They're called this because they creep up and worsen without showing visible signs, striking and killing before the affected person even knows that they're sick.

These diseases are characterized as such for a few reasons. Some of them are asymptomatic, meaning that they don't show signs of illness at all unless a doctor specifically screens for them. Others exhibit symptoms that are misunderstood or attributed to other causes such as aging. When the person affected doesn't think they are experiencing symptoms of the disease, they are unlikely to seek medical treatment.

But don't worry. There are ways to avoid these deadly conditions. And for some, there are methods of treatment available should you be affected. These are some of the deadliest silent killer diseases in the United States - and how to avoid each one.

Heart Disease

One in every four deaths in America are linked to heart disease, making it the No. 1 killer in the United States. Though you may think you know the warning signs of heart trouble, many of the signs are subtle and easy to miss. Additionally, women have different symptoms than men; as a result, many women are unaware of what symptoms may indicate a risk.


Heart Disease: How to Avoid It

Heart disease carries a number of risk factors, only some of which are in your control. Genetics play a role, as do other related conditions. To reduce your risk of heart disease, make sure to exercise regularly (the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week) and eat a nutritious, heart-healthy diet that includes fiber, healthy fats, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Your next step to avoiding a fatal heart condition is to become familiar with the telltale signs that your heart may be in trouble.


Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can be easy to miss if you aren't someone who gets their blood pressure checked regularly by your physician. According to the American Medical Group Foundation, 68 million Americans have high blood pressure, 20 percent of whom are not aware they have it. Most people who have high blood pressure do not experience any symptoms - at least not at first.

Hypertension: How to Avoid It

Avoiding hypertension can be difficult, especially if you aren't sure what is causing it. Keeping an eye on lifestyle risk factors by quitting smoking and managing stress may help, as could dietary changes and regular exercise. Talk to your doctor to create a personalized plan for maintaining a healthy blood pressure and consider taking up these 14 healthy eating habits that can help prevent hypertension.


You may think you know everything you need to about avoiding Type 2 diabetes. But there's a lot about this common disease that you might not know! For instance, did you know that many people don't exhibit any physical symptoms? As a result, many diabetes cases go undiagnosed. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans living with diabetes don't know they have it. The American Diabetes Association names diabetes as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Diabetes: How to Avoid It

Preventing diabetes starts with diet and exercise, but even with a perfect diet and regular cardio you may not successfully avoid it. Other lifestyle factors, such as quitting smoking, may help as well. Risk factors such as genetics are unfortunately unavoidable. However, eating well for preventing diabetes is probably a healthy choice regardless; here are some common mistakes to avoid.


Cancer is perhaps the most well-known silent killer; when a tumor first forms, there are often few or no symptoms that develop alongside it. For this reason, it's important to visit your doctor regularly and let them know about anything that's going on - even if the symptom seems small, it may be serious. The early signs of cancer depend largely on the type. Ovarian cancer is one that is often missed in its early stages; according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, 51 percent of ovarian cancer patients are not diagnosed until stage 3. Signs to watch out for include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and abnormal urinary symptoms.

Cancer: How to Avoid It

According to the World Health Organization, 30 to 50 percent of all cancer diagnoses are preventable. Some factors that increase your risk for cancer include diet and exercise habits (add these foods into your diet to help lower your risk), in addition to influences such as alcohol, tobacco, and environmental factors. Make sure you are screened regularly for cancers you may have a high risk for developing and visit a physician regularly to assess your own plan for prevention.


Hepatitis B and C viruses are silent threats to many people around the world who may not know they are infected. Infection by these viruses causes Hepatitis B or C, diseases that cause inflammation of the liver. If left untreated, these infections can result in cirrhosis, liver cancer, or even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.7 to 3.9 million U.S. residents are infected with chronic hepatitis C and 850,000 to 2.2 million people are infected with chronic hepatitis B. These viruses have a lengthy incubation period, meaning that it can easily be spread before the person is even aware they're infected. Hepatitis B is spread most often through contact with infectious blood, semen, and other body fluids. Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through contact with blood of an infected person. A majority of people who are infected with either virus do not experience symptoms after newly becoming infected, making it one of the more silent diseases.

Hepatitis: How to Avoid It

To prevent hepatitis B infection, you should get vaccinated. According to the World Hepatitis Alliance, vaccination against hepatitis B is effective in preventing 95 percent of cases. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, but to reduce your risk you should always avoid sharing needles or razors with those who are infected, avoid injecting drugs or ensure needles are sterilized before injecting drugs, and use condoms when having sex with partners who may be infected.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is relatively common in the United States and can occur when the upper respiratory tract is blocked during sleep, either obstructing or completely blocking air flow. Most people wake up as a result due to signals sent to the brain to restore breathing; but many are not aware that sleep apnea caused the disruption to their sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million American adults are currently living with sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea: How to Avoid It

Certain lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, can increase your risk of sleep apnea. Eat a healthy diet and avoid these risk-raising habits in order to prevent sleep apnea. You may also want to look out for subtle signs you may be affected. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, some signs include loud snoring, excessive sleepiness or fatigue, trouble concentrating, and waking up frequently throughout the night.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a blanket term used to describe progressive and incurable lung diseases. Though they cannot be cured, many of these diseases can be managed with effective treatment. Some of the more common such diseases include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. People who experience COPD almost always experience symptoms of breathlessness or other respiratory distress - but these symptoms are sometimes missed because they are mischaracterized as a simple symptom of aging.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): How to Avoid It

According to the COPD Foundation, most cases of COPD are caused by inhaling pollutants. These pollutants can be environmental or due to lifestyle habits such as smoking. One of the most effective things you can do to avoid getting COPD is to abstain from smoking or quit.


Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease occurs when a person has extra fat in their liver. This excess can interfere with your liver's ability to function and put your life at risk. There are two types of fatty liver disease to watch out for: alcohol-related fatty liver disease (ALD) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). As the name implies, the first type (ALD) is largely alcohol-related. Some people who drink heavily can get ALD without experiencing any immediate symptoms. As the disease worsens, the person is at greater risk for conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. People who experience NAFLD also often don't exhibit any symptoms and do not have heavy drinking as a warning sign. Instead, NAFLD is linked to other conditions such as hypertension and high cholesterol. Poor diet and other lifestyle factors raise a person's risk of NAFLD.

Fatty Liver Disease: How to Avoid It

Preventing ALD is fairly straightforward: Avoid drinking heavily. To treat ALD, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol entirely. Preventing NAFLD, on the other hand, is slightly more complicated. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can prevent NAFLD using similar methods of prevention as you would for high blood pressure and heart disease. Eat a heart-healthy diet, engage in regular exercise, and limit alcohol consumption.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Blood clots can be seriously dangerous if they go unnoticed. Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a clot forms in a deep vein, such as one in the lower leg or thigh. If the clot comes loose, it can travel and cause a pulmonary embolism, which involves serious lung damage. According to the National Heart, Lunch, and Blood Institute, around only half of people with deep vein thrombosis experience any symptoms.

Deep Vein Thrombosis: How to Avoid It

Recent surgeries or minor injuries can increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis. Talk to your doctor before and after any procedure to ensure you're prepared for any possible risk. If you are at risk, there are steps you can take to prevent a clot from forming. Movement, for instance, can be helpful in circulating blood to prevent clotting. Applying gentle pressure or going on certain blood-thinning medications may also be recommended. Again, communication with your doctor in these instances is essential. Not sure what questions to ask? No matter what the reason for your doctor's visit, these 20 questions can help you improve communication with your care provider.

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