Many people have multiple major diseases in their family. It is important to know family history, as genetics and environmental risk factors can be shared. Knowing the risk factors and prevention strategies can help a person to make proper health decisions. Three major diseases that a family may suffer are Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and AIDS.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed by having a fasting plasma glucose level of 126 mg/dL and a two-hour impaired glucose tolerance less than 200 mg/dL. These high glucose levels are typically caused by insulin resistance, which can be genetic or environmental. Environmental factors include inactivity, poor diet and obesity. Predictably, this disease often coexists with other illness such as hypertension and high triglycerides (Steyn, Mann, Bennett, Temple, Zimmet, Tuomilehto, Lindstrom and Louheranta, 2004).

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The signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes are thirst and an increase in urination frequency. Other symptoms include increased hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing wounds and dark areas in the skin (“Type 2 Diabetes,” n.d.).

The risk factors for type 2 diabetes, as stated previously, can be genetic or environmental. Ethnicity, age, gender and other genetic factors are irreversible. Among different ethnicities, the prevalence of this illness varies, which could be more of an environmental factor, but it is thought to be related to gene susceptibility as well. Your risk goes up two to six times if a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes. The differences in prevalence among different sexes is negligible, but risk increases with age (Zimmet et al., 2004).

Environmental risk factors are obesity, physical inactivity and diet. Obesity is a strong predictor of type 2 diabetes in individuals with a body mass index of over 21. Low levels of physical activity is also a risk factor, which may be related to obesity. Lastly, diet is a risk factor. Diets with high fat content increase insulin resistance compared with diets high in carbohydrates. Diets high in fiber decrease the risk for diabetes (Zimmet et al., 2004).

Primary prevention of type 2 diabetes is apparent by looking at the environmental risk factors. Weight loss caused by an increase in activity levels and dietary adjustments shows to be preventive. A healthy lifestyle is a great preventive strategy to fight type 2 diabetes (Zimmet et al., 2004). Any activity that damages organs such as the pancreas, which processes insulin, should be eliminated. Secondary prevention is good blood sugar control through primary prevention activities but also through proper medications, such as Glucophage or insulin. Tertiary prevention includes monitoring and treatment of complications associated with type 2 diabetes, such as diabetic retinopathy and kidney problems. This could even include amputation to alleviate infectious non-healing wounds.

Heart Disease
There are seven primary types of heart disease: hypertension, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, angina, arrhythmias, congestive heart failure and heart disease in children. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs in a quarter of the population in the United States. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries by fat, cholesterol or other plaques that accumulate on the vessel walls. Myocardial infarction, or heart attack, happens to 1.1 million Americans every year. Angina, or chest pain from lack of oxygen, is an indicator of stress on the heart. Arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, can be deadly and often must be controlled with medications or a pacemaker. Congestive heart failure is caused by irregular heartbeat and pressure, which causes fluid to accumulate in the lungs and affect breathing. Lastly, heart disease in children is typically caused by malformations or rheumatic fever. Together, heart disease accounts for more deaths than cancer, accidental injuries, and other diseases combined (Siewe, n.d.).

Signs and symptoms of heart disease vary based on what type of heart disease one develops. Hypertension may not have symptoms. Angina is characterized by pain in the chest, shoulder, neck, arm, hand, or back. Signs and symptoms of a heart attack are chest discomfort or discomfort in the upper body, shortness of breath, a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness (Siewe, n.d.)

As with type 2 diabetes, the risk factors of heart disease are genetic and environmental. One environmental risk factor is smoking, which increases blood pressure and heart rate. It also damages the lining of the arteries and causes the platelets to increase and blood to become thicker. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Physical inactivity and bodyweight are also environmental risk factors. Some factors are environmental but have varying levels of control, such as psychological factors. Stress strains the heart along with depression and anxiety. High blood pressure is a heart disease, but it is also a risk factor for other heart diseases. High cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. Genetic factors and uncontrollable risk factors of heart disease include heredity, age, gender and ethnicity. The risk increases over age 65, and men have a higher risk until age 75. African American men are at a greater risk for hypertension, while Hispanic Americans have greater risks of hypertension and angina (Siew, n.d.).

Primary preventive measures that can reduce the risk of heart disease include exercise, a healthy BMI and smoking cessation. While stress may seem unmanageable, treating depressive or anxiety disorders can have a positive relationship to heart health. Treating diseases that are risk factors for other heart diseases is also a primary preventive strategy. For instance, treating high blood pressure may prevent more serious heart disease. Secondary prevention of heart disease is typically control with medication to prevent further heart damage. Tertiary prevention may involve pacemakers or ablation therapy when the heart is beyond repairing itself.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a worldwide epidemic. It is the leading cause of death by infectious disease. AIDS is the last stage of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, which attacks the immune system’s T cells. T cells fight infection, so losing them allows a person to get infections and opportunistic cancers. No cure for HIV exists, but HIV can be controlled with antiretroviral therapy. If treated early on, a person with HIV can live nearly as long as a person who does not have the disease (“What is HIV/AIDS,” 2016).

The early stages of HIV include flu-like symptoms such as fevers, chills, night sweats and a sore throat. However, HIV may not have any symptoms, and the only way to determine infection is to be tested. Once the virus reaches the late stage of AIDS, symptoms become extreme. Rapid weight loss, fevers, sweating, chronic diarrhea, sores and pneumonia are only a few of the symptoms of AIDS (“Symptoms of HIV,” 2016).

HIV and AIDS is transmitted through blood, so unprotected sex is a primary risk factor. The virus can enter through tears in the skin or sores in the skin from other sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, intravenous drug use is a risk factor. Healthcare workers are sometimes at risk for blood exposure. All persons who believe they have had an exposure should be tested.

Primary prevention and treatment of HIV can prevent AIDS. In the case of treatment, HIV may never reach the stage of AIDS. Prevention strategies involve safe sex and not reusing needles. It also involves education. Apathy has caused younger generations to use less caution. Prevention of HIV is the best way to prevent AIDS. When AIDS does occur, secondary prevention includes limiting exposure to anything that may attack the immune system, such as other sick people. Antiretroviral therapy is a secondary and tertiary prevention strategy, as it is continuously used throughout AIDS progression.

Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and AIDS are all stealthy killers and should be paid proper attention. In the cases where these illnesses increase your risk simply by being in the family, preventable risk factors should be avoided to a greater extent. After researching these three illnesses, I understand how important it is to keep a healthy weight and not smoke, but I already knew this. What I didn’t know is that even with a healthy weight, inactivity can be just as serious. I am already active but understand the importance even more so. When considering AIDS, it is nice to know that those who have HIV have a chance at a long life with treatment. This knowledge will push me to get tested if I ever fear that I have an exposure. A positive HIV test is not a death sentence but a chance to treat and prevent AIDS. Knowing risk factors and prevention strategies increases the comfort I have in knowing that I can control some of the risk factors that determine my life expectancy.