The Top 5 Causes of Premature Death in Women

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The Top 5 Causes of Premature Death in Women

The health issues predominantly facing women can involve everything from pregnancy complications to sexual violence, but women’s unique health care needs aren’t always obvious. The U.S. Department of Health recently outlined how the Affordable Care Act will improve care for women by providing preventive services at no additional cost, including cancer and heart disease, as well as domestic violence counseling programs and assistance for women who want to quit smoking. Hopefully, these services will prevent untimely deaths. But the advice most doctors give to women is the same across the board – eat right, exercise more, and adopt a healthier lifestyle in order to live longer. While men are still far more likely to die early than women are, these are the conditions most likely to be fatal in female patients.

1. Heart Disease

When your heart’s blood supply is cut off by a blood clot in at least one pulmonary vein, the result is a heart attack. According to the CDC, heart disease is responsible for 1 out of 4 female deaths in the United States, and yet only about half of women understand that it’s their number one risk. The risk factors include diabetes, obesity, smoking, excessive drinking, and high stress levels. Doctors are particularly concerned about educating women of color, because African American women have the highest risk for hypertension and Hispanic women are the most likely to develop diabetes.

2. Lung Cancer

This one is surprising to many women, because only about 16 percent of American females are smokers, and the number is decreasing all the time. But the number of female nonsmokers who contract lung cancer is growing, and it’s the most fatal type of cancer for women, killing more than 70,000 per year. Doctors have recently discovered that 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer cases are caused by gene abnormalities, and they are beginning to offer preventive drug treatment to patients who are screened early on. Lung cancer is one condition where a lot of important research is yet to be done.

3. Breast Cancer

By far the most common cancer in women, breast cancer is fortunately not as fatal as lung or colorectal cancer. It kills nearly 40,000 women every year, and the number has steadily decreased due to increased education, early detection methods, and changes in lifestyle. According to the CDC, some of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer are never having children or having children later in life, early menstruation, late menopause, and being overweight or inactive after menopause. Even if you have no family history, you may still be at risk – breast cancer equates to 30 percent of all female cancer cases.

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4. Emphysema

While viral infections can cause emphysema to develop, it’s overwhelmingly a smoker’s disease. Women who smoke are more than 10 times more likely to contract emphysema, a condition that makes up 6 percent of female deaths per year. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two forms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which is the third-largest killer in America. When you develop a smoker’s cough, you have begun the road to COPD, which may result in the use of an inhaler and later oxygen therapy. Quitting smoking is the biggest thing patients can do to prevent it.

5. Stroke

About 85 percent of strokes are cause by blood flow to the brain being blocked by a clot, and they are slightly more common in women than men – possibly due to a woman’s longer average lifespan. Women also have unique risk factors. While smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes apply to everyone, risks for female patients can come from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. About 1 in 8 stroke victims who survive will have a second stroke within five years, which is why doctors recommend aspirin therapy and serious lifestyle changes.

As the population ages, the medical community is increasingly focused on diseases that affect women after menopause. But many of these fatal conditions can strike at any age, and it’s never too early to get screened for heart disease and cancer, stop smoking, and embrace healthy living. Women may live longer than men, but may also have many more health problems to worry about.

Writer Brett Harris is an avid blogger. Check out his writing on the Top Online Masters in Public Health Programs.