7 silent killers you should be aware of!

7 silent killers you should be aware of!

Cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions that can gradually claim your life.

Written by Mita Majumdar |Updated : July 17, 2017 2:33 PM IST

Silent killer diseases are ones that do not show early symptoms, or if they do, they are so subtle that it goes unnoticed. And if the disease or condition goes unnoticed for long, it can do irreversible damage. That said, it is always beneficial to be aware of the warning signs of these silent killer diseases or their complications. Here s a list of seven such silent killers.

1. Cancer

World Health Organisation data reveals that there were 8.2 million cancer deaths and 14 million new cases in 2012 and the number is expected to rise by 70 percent over the next 20 years [1]. Cancer is a silent killer because most times it just crouches there undetected, undisturbed, and silently spreads without any apparent signs or symptoms for months or even years. And then suddenly it snicks up on you and often it is too late.

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Cancer is caused by the interaction of one s genetic factors with external agents such as radiations, tobacco use, tobacco smoke, drinking water contaminants such as arsenic, chemical carcinogens, and infections from virus, bacteria, or parasites. Ageing can also be a factor for cancer development as the incidence of cancer rises dramatically with age, most likely due to a build-up of risks for specific cancers that increase with age , according to the WHO s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). There are hundreds of cancer types breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, blood cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, oesophageal cancer, ovarian cancer, to name a few. Each cancer may have its early symptoms but they are very difficult to detect.

Unintentional weight loss and feeling of tiredness are usually common symptoms for most cancers, though it need not be for many people. But be aware of possible subtle symptoms. For example

  • Breast cancer: Check for lumps in and around your breast. This may be a symptom of breast cancer. Get a mammography done.
  • Colon /colorectal cancer: Seek immediate medical help if you notice rectal bleeding, blood mixed with your stool, or black or tarry stool.
  • Lung cancer: Check with your doctor if you have cough that does not go away, or gets worse, or you cough up blood.
  • Prostate cancer: Early prostate cancers generally do not cause symptoms. But be aware of the symptoms such as uncontrollable urge to pass urine, difficulty in passing urine and peeing more frequently.

2. Heart Diseases

Atherosclerosis is the term used when your arteries become thick and stiff because of the build-up of plaque. Fatty substances, cholesterol, waste material from the cells, and calcium deposits make up the plaque. Sometimes a piece of the plaque may break off and sometimes a blood clot can form on the plaque. Either of these can block the artery and cause heart attack or stroke. In the same way, the thickening of the arteries due to plaque can restrict blood flow and is the main cause of heart disease. Atherosclerosis develops gradually but it is not exactly known how it begins or what causes it. The consequences are, however, very serious. It stands to reason, therefore, that atherosclerosis is a silent killer. It would silently build up the plaque in your arteries, and then suddenly you find yourself dealing with heart disease.

Coronary artery disease, also known as ischaemic heart disease, is the most common form of heart disease. It is the narrowing and /or blockage of the coronary arteries (blood vessels that supply the heart) and is the leading cause of heart attack and angina.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack may be different for each person, but in general may include

  • Crushing pain, or pressure, or tightness in the chest
  • Pain spreading from the chest area to one or both arms, and to the jaw, neck and shoulders, and if you are a woman, pain may spread to your upper back
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting, or indigestion
  • Extreme tiredness

When the arteries in the legs narrow or get blocked it is called peripheral arterial disease. Its main warning is that you will experience pain in the calves especially when walking.

Cerebrovascular disease is a condition in which the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain become narrowed and /or blocked. This is a leading cause of stroke. If the effects of blockage last less than 24 hours it is called transient ischaemic attack. Longer-lasting effects of the blockage may lead to stroke.

The following signs and symptoms may warn you about the stroke

  • Sudden weakness on left or right side of the body
  • Tingling in the face or limbs
  • Drooping on one side of the face; you can spot a stroke if the smile is uneven
  • Difficulty speaking, speech is slurred

The problem with heart disease is that they mostly don t occur in isolation, and the addition of associated conditions such as diabetes and hypertension add to the risk many times over! Research has shown that relative mortality risk is reduced by 50 percent if you stop smoking, by 20 to 30 percent if you exercise moderately, and by 15-40 percent if you adopt a healthy dietary habit. [2]

3. Cardiomyopathy

Diseases of the heart muscle are termed cardiomyopathy. You may have problems with your heart muscle because of the genes you inherited from your parents, or from an infection, or from some reasons that are not yet well understood. Cardiomyopathy is another silent killer because you may never have signs or symptoms. Symptoms occur later as the heart weakens and you have heart failure where your heart is unable to pump enough blood. You can identify heart failure by

  • Shortness of breath on physical exertion or it may come up suddenly
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, and abdomen
  • Irregular heartbeats

4. High blood pressure

The force of blood pushing against your arteries is called blood pressure. Normally, your blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day. But if your blood pressure readings is consistently higher than 140 / 90 over a long time, you have high blood pressure.

High blood pressure or hypertension, is again a silent killer. Why? Because it has no warning signs or symptoms and you will not even know you have it. The only way you will know is through measure it. So, it is important that you check your blood pressure regularly. Read more about 6 unusual symptoms of hypertension you should NEVER ignore!

High blood pressure hardens your arteries leading to atherosclerosis and raising your risk of heart attack, angina, stroke, and heart failure. In addition, it affects the kidneys as well, raising your risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

How does it affect the kidneys? High blood pressure damages arteries around kidneys, so there is less blood flow to the kidney. Further, the nephrons in the kidney that filter your blood, do not receive the required oxygen and nutrients (from the blood), so they lose their ability to filter blood and regulate the fluids, hormones, and salts in the body. Actually, it works both ways; chronic kidney disease causes high blood pressure, and high blood pressure can lead to chronic kidney disease.

Switch to a low-sodium diet if you are hypertensive. Research has shown that you can control high blood pressure by maintaining a low salt diet. [3]

5. Diabetes

About 1.5 million people dying of diabetes in a year worldwide is a statistics that would be sufficient to make us sit up and realize that it s not called the silent killer for nothing, and Asian countries contribute to more than 60 percent of world s diabetic burden. [4]

Type-2 diabetes is actually the silent killer. There is a build-up of sugar in your blood because your body either does not produce enough insulin or it does not use this insulin properly to process the sugar. But how would you know that, you don t have any symptoms that early! You only realize this once the sugar in the blood leads to severe complications, viz.

  • Skin complications such as blisters and bacterial and fungal infections
  • Eye complications such as glaucoma, retinopathy, cataract, all of which can lead to blindness.
  • Nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy which manifests as excruciating pain or as tingling or numbness. Currently, there is no drug which can halt or reverse the progression of the disease. [5]
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.
  • Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Healthy diet (a personalized healthy diet), regular moderate physical activity, and lifestyle modification is the only way you can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. You need to know about ABCDE of diabetes: 5 rules to control your blood sugar level

6. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition of thinning and weakening of the bones so that they break easily. It is more common in older people, especially in, but not limited to, women. In many cases, you get a definitive diagnosis only after suffering a bone fracture. And then it is already too late to prevent the condition. The irreversible damage is done! Read here 9 superfoods for fighting osteoporosis

Fractures due to osteoporosis commonly occur in the hip, spine, and wrist. Indian women are at a higher risk of suffering from osteoporosis.

Maybe it is not possible for you to avoid osteoporosis. But you can prevent complications by consuming a healthy diet containing plenty of protein and minerals. Consume lot of calcium rich foods and if you are post- menopausal taking 1500mg of calcium daily is a must for you.

7. Milk

Who would have guessed that milk could be a silent killer? Milk is not a killer disease, but the scientific community now believes that milk, other than mother s milk, can lead to silent killer diseases. It is now a scientifically proven fact that the low content of magnesium in milk does not allow the calcium to be absorbed in the blood, on the contrary, it gets deposited in the body, thereby causing several problems which manifest in the fullness of time. [6]

Various studies have shown that high intake of milk has undesirable effects since it is the dietary source of D-galactose which is known to be pro-inflammatory. For example, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that women who consumed 3 glasses of milk per day were twice the risk of mortality compared to women who drank just a glass of milk per day and had higher risk of fracture as well.[7]

Similarly, another study has shown that cow milk protein could cause type-1 diabetes. [8]

Dairy protein has been implicated in several cancers as well.

Asks Dr. Sharma, 'Can a substitute adopted in place of mother s milk, be continued as a normal staple food? If we agree that mother s milk is not an adult food, then how can its substitute be one?' You decide!


  1. https://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/
  1. Ali MK, Narayan KMV, Tandon N. Diabetes & coronary heart disease: Current perspectives. The Indian Journal of Medical Research. 2010;132(5):584-597.
  1. Ritz E. Hypertension and kidney disease. Clinical Nephrology, Vol. 74 Suppl. 1/2010 (S39-S43)
  1. SampattiSambhajiTodkar. Diabetes mellitus the Silent Killer of mankind: An overview on the eve of upcoming World Health Day! J Med Allied Sci. 2016; 6 (1) : 39 44
  1. Kaur S, Pandhi P, Dutta P. Painful diabetic neuropathy: an update. Annals of Neurosciences. 2011;18(4):168-175. doi:10.5214/ans.0972-7531.1118409.
  1. Chatterjee, Anannya. "Is Milk A Killer?".Millennium Post 2013. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
  1. Micha lsson Karl, Wolk Alicja, Langenski ldSophie, Basu Samar, Warensj Lemming Eva,Melhus H kan et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies BMJ 2014; 349 :g6015
  2. Dahl-Jorgensen K, Joner G, Hanssen KF. Relationship between cows milk consumption and incidence of IDDM in childhood. Diabetes Care 1991;14:1081-3.

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