The Ten Most Common Causes of Death (And How to Prevent Them)

The Ten Most Common Causes of Death (And How to Prevent Them)
April 29, 2013 11:22 PM

You may fear dying in a plane crash or you might suffer from a paralyzing fear of poisonous snakes, but in truth you are much more likely to fall victim to one of ten widespread health problems. Although death is inevitable, there are plenty of things you can do in order to dramatically reduce your chances of dying from the leading causes of death. Read on to learn about ways in which you can extend your lifespan.

1) Stroke

In just one typical year, over 135 thousand people will die from a stroke. In some cases, a stroke occurs when brain cells die due to a block in the brain’s blood supply, and in other cases you might have a stroke if blood vessels in your brain rupture. If a stroke does not lead to death, it can cause partial or complete paralysis, as well as impaired speech and cognitive difficulties. If you want to reduce your chances of suffering from a stroke, you need to remove seven risk factors from your life. Stop smoking, drink alcohol only in moderation, avoid being overweight (though a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine), keep your cholesterol under control, have regular blood pressure checks, and make sure that you do not have untreated diabetes.

2) Blood poisoning:

When bacteria make their way into your blood, septicemia (commonly known as blood poisoning) develops. In this scenario, you are at risk of dying from low blood pressure and organ failure. Septicemia can result from a root infection anywhere in the body, and it was responsible for killing over 30 thousand people in the United States in just one year. If you want to avoid this cause of death, seek prompt treatment for any suspected infections and make sure that you accept any vaccinations that can help to prevent bacterial infections. If you are currently suffering from an infection, look out for the most common symptoms of blood poisoning. These include a racing pulse, decreased urination and a high fever.

3) Alzheimer’s disease:

Alzheimer’s is an extremely common cause of death in the elderly population, typically striking people in the sixth decade of life (or later). The main symptoms are memory problems, language deficits and confused thinking, sometimes leading to an inability to perform autonomous tasks. It can lead to death due to a decreased ability to fight infection, an eventual inability to eat, and an increased likelihood of developing a fatal blood clot in the lungs or heart. If you want to reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease in old age, the Alzheimer's Association advise that you do your best to keep your heart healthy (through diet and exercise), stay in shape, and eat a healthy diet.

4) Kidney disorders:

Grouped together, kidney disorders are another of the leading causes of death. Each of these disorders requires you to take different actions in order to reduce your chances of becoming ill. For example, nephrotic syndrome results in a buildup of protein in the urine due to kidney damage, and it can be caused by a wide range of conditions. The most common include infection, drug allergies, lupus and immune disorders such as arthritis and HIV. If you have any of these health problems, be sure to ask your doctor whether you should be concerned about nephrotic syndrome. Another common kidney disorder is nephrosis, which is a form of kidney damage that tends to strike people with lupus, diabetes, or chronic hypertension (i.e. uncontrolled high blood pressure). It is also worth noting that repeated use of certain pain medication can cause nephrosis, so use painkillers in moderation if you want to reduce your chances of dying from some form of kidney disorder.

5) Heart disease:

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control revealed that nearly 600 thousand of the year’s deaths were attributable to heart disease. Coronary artery disease is by far the most common form of the condition, and it is characterized by narrowed blood vessels leading to the heart. The symptoms include a feeling of pressure in your chest and shortness of breath (both of which commonly occur during exercise of periods of intense emotion). If you want to avoid dying of some form of heart disease, make sure your blood pressure is under control, stop smoking, and have regular cholesterol checks after the age of forty.

6) Influenza:

Although you may be surprised, the flu is one of the most common causes of death (especially in the very old and the very young). The reason why flu is so dangerous mainly lies in the possible complications of the virus, such as pneumonia. Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition that affects the lungs and it can lead to death by way of respiratory failure. If you want to reduce your chances of dying from the flu, make sure you practice good hygiene and receive a regular vaccination against the yearly strains of flu.

7) Diabetes:

Diabetes involves dangerous high blood sugar levels and can result in death as a result of heart problems or kidney failure. The main symptoms are excessive thirst, tiredness and increased urinary output. The good news is that there are several things you can do in order to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Specifically, you should avoid becoming overweight, stick to a regular exercise routine and have regular blood sugar checks if there is a history of diabetes in your family. In addition, if you are a woman who suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome, you should also have regular blood sugar checks due to a common overlap between this disease and insulin resistance.

8) Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (commonly known as COPD) occurs when a person develops both bronchitis and emphysema. This lethal combination leads to severely limited amount of air flow to and from the lungs, creating extreme shortness of breath. As many as 90% of cases of COPD are caused by smoking cigarettes, so if you want to all but rule out succumbing to this leading cause of death then you should entirely avoid smoking. Reducing your exposure to secondhand smoke will also help.

9) Cancer:

The term ‘cancer’ is applied to cases in which abnormal cells replicate out of control, and cancer can develop in any area of the human body. As a result, it is one of the leading causes of death, claiming 567,628 American lives in 2011 alone. The most common type of cancer varies depending on your sex, with men usually developing malignancies of the prostate, lung and colon while women more commonly suffer from cancers of the colon, lung and breast. Of all cancers, lung cancer most regularly results in death, and it is caused by smoking in the majority of cases. Regarding cancer in general, it is thought that there are several things you can do in order to reduce your risk of developing the disease. Adopt a healthy lifestyle that involves regular exercise, eat a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables, stop smoking, and work to combat obesity. In addition, it is important to report any suspicious lumps to your doctor in order to make sure that they can be ruled out as cancerous growths.

10) Suicide:

Sadly, the Centers for Disease Control also listed suicide as one of the most common causes of death in 2011. If you are struggling with depression or feelings of hopelessness, seek help as soon as possible (even if you do not believe that you would ever be suicidal). There are trained experts waiting to help you improve your life through some combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling and antidepressant medications.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Published: April 29, 2013 11:22 PM
Next scheduled update: April 29, 2015 11:22 PM
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