Leading Causes of Death in the U.S. | Apr 19, 2017
A 2015 study compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics found that there were around 2.6 million deaths registered in 2014. In their research, these organizations examined the leading causes for fatalities and found the top 10. Let’s take a closer look:
- Heart disease
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases
- Unintentional injuries (accidents)
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)
- Alzheimer’s disease
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the U.S., leading to the deaths of around 615,000 people in 2014 alone. According to The Heart Foundation, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds in this country.
It’s important to note that heart disease affects men and women differently, especially in terms of symptoms, causes and outcomes. This is an ongoing topic of research and discussion among medical professionals and public health officials alike, but there are major distinctions to take into consideration. For example, men’s heart troubles tend to stem from plaque build-up in the major coronary arteries, while women experience problems with smaller blood vessels that cease to constrict and dilate properly, according to Cedars Sinai. A history of irregular menstrual cycles, estrogen deficiencies and polycystic ovary syndrome are also specific causes of heart disease in female patients.
While heart disease is a concentrated illness, cancer’s ability to grow and spread lands it as the second highest cause of death in the U.S. Around 1.7 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2017 with the most common types projected to be breast, lung and prostate cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Researchers continue to look into cures for this disease and the federal government is taking an assistive role as well. The 21st Century Cures Act, which was passed by Congress in December 2016, provides $4.8 billion in funding for The National Institutes of Health, which will use $1.8 billion to accelerate cancer research. The legislation also allocated $1.6 billion for brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s – which is No. 5 on this list.
This collection of lung diseases results in blockages of airflow and breathing-related issues. Among the most common are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – less formally known as COPD – which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, as well as asthma.
According to Medical News Today, tobacco and smoking are major factors in the development of COPD as are genetics, respiratory infections and exposure to air pollutants. As a result, public health officials need to inform individuals and communities of the detrimental effects of these items in addition to the outcomes of chronic lower respiratory disease, which killed around 147,000 people in 2014 alone.
In their lifetime, people will have any number of slip-ups or moments of clumsiness. The most important factor is the severity of these accidents as well as the frequency. Unintentional injuries – like falls, motor-vehicle accidents, cuts or pierces and being struck by or against objects or persons – although fourth on the list overall, were the leading cause of death among those in their 40s.
Prevention in these scenarios is difficult as the incidents are accidental, but Johns Hopkins recommended that people examine their family’s environment, lifestyles and risks more closely to be able to find and respond to problems early. Some examples include wearing seatbelts, storing medicines and potential poisons away from children and installing safety devices – like fire extinguishers – in the home.
In 2014, strokes killed around 133,000 people in the U.S., according to the CDC. This cerebrovascular disease is caused by problems with the arteries supplying oxygen to the brain and affects nearly 800,000 people in this country every year. Risk factors associated with stroke include demographic information, such as age, race, ethnicity and geography as well as current medical conditions.
For example, people with hypertension are at a higher risk of having a stroke, according to the American Heart Association. High blood pressure damages the lining and repaired structure of blood vessels, which moderate efficient blood flow. To prevent a stroke, Harvard Health suggested lowering blood pressure, losing weight, exercise and treatment of both diabetes and atrial fibrillation, if necessary.
It is incredibly difficult to watch a loved one lose his or her ability to remember – or experience the ailment yourself. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia which results in the loss of cognitive function. It is the only cause of death on this list that cannot be cured, prevented or slowed – at least not currently – which can make it that much more difficult for individuals as well as their friends and families.
The fatal disease, which may result in the ability for patients to walk or swallow, caused around 93,500 deaths in 2014. Alzheimer’s is also the most expensive illness in the U.S, as people may live for a long time with the condition and require constant medical care. It is projected that by 2050, combined Medicare and Medicaid spending for those with Alzheimer’s will reach $735 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Although prevention tips are few and far between, research has shown a link between cardiovascular disease and serious head trauma with an increased risk of dementia. As with any illness or ailment, medical professionals recommended maintaining intellectual activity as well as physical exercise and a healthy diet.
According to the CDC, more than 29 million people had diabetes in the U.S. as of 2014. This disease is fairly well known across the country, but the warning signs and symptoms may not be as widely discussed. From frequent urination and unexplained weight loss to numbness in the hands and feet and excessive thirst, people need to be aware of the symptoms that could lead to this illness.
The seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., diabetes killed around 76,500 people in 2014. The condition comes in two forms:
- Type 1: Insulin-dependent accounts for 5 percent of cases
- Type 2: Adult-onset accounts for 90 percent to 95 percent of cases
While Type 1 is an autoimmune condition, people can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy body weight through physical exercise and a good diet.
The CDC examined the effects of influenza in its 2015 study, especially how the illness can be further complicated by pneumonia. The viral infection killed around 55,000 people in 2014, a figure made even more complicated by the ability of various strains to be circulating at once. The strongest way to prevent both of these ailments is to receive a vaccination on a yearly basis. These shots protect people who have never had the condition before as well as those at a high risk.
Furthermore, individuals and communities need to look out for symptoms, including fever, cough, chills, muscle aches and tiredness – as they are warning signs for both influenza and pneumonia.
All three of the conditions gathered together to hold the No. 9 spot can be grouped into one category: kidney disease. Although this illness plagues an estimated 31 million people in the U.S., 90 percent of people with stage 3 chronic kidney disease – moderately decreased kidney function – do not know it, according to the American Kidney Fund. That’s an astounding number, but one that can be changed by identifying the leading causes of kidney failure: diabetes and high blood pressure.
Since there are various stages of this condition, people need to be cognizant of their intake of alcohol, their weight and their smoking habits as it affects their kidneys’ wellbeing.
Rounding out the list of the 10 leading causes of death is suicide. Rates of intentional self-harm were higher in men than in women, with the higher rates among those aged 45 to 64 for both groups, according to the CDC.
Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide and for every intentional death, there are 25 attempts, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The stigma surrounding the topic can make it difficult for friends and families to talk about, but avoidance of these fatalities depends on discussion of things including depression, addiction, suicidal plans and much more.
It’s crucial for public health officials to not only be aware of these leading causes of death, but to factor these topics into their education of and discussions with the various individuals and communities they serve. Understanding each of these conditions and prevention techniques may take some time, but the comprehensive insight gained will likely be well worth the research.
The University of Arizona’s Master of Public Health program helps officials in the field gain the education and expertise they need to succeed on these subjects and many more. The university offers online coursework that enables professionals to gain an advanced degree while still working a part- or full-time job.