Despite recent advances in medical science, the life expectancy of the average American has declined over the past few years. This means it’s as important as ever to take care of our bodies and minds to reduce our risk of developing life-threatening illnesses.
We tend to envision death as the result of a serious, sudden, non-preventable illness. While this can certainly be the case, it’s more likely you’ll develop a chronic condition that wears your body down over time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these were the six deadliest diseases in high-income countries in 2016.
#1 Heart Disease
This will not come as a shock to Americans – heart disease is still the number one killer in the country, claiming more than 630,000 lives in 2016 alone. While heart disease has a genetic component, the prevalence of the illness is almost certainly tied to the increase in fatty food consumption and sedentary lifestyles in the U.S.
The most common form is ischemic heart disease (IHD), otherwise known as coronary artery disease (CAD). This is characterized by atherosclerosis, or the tightening of the blood vessels due to plaque buildup, which causes blockages that can lead to fatal heart attacks.
A high rate of heart disease also correlates with more frequent strokes. During an ischemic stroke, a blocked artery stops blood flow to the brain. It is also possible for a blood vessel to burst in the brain due to high blood pressure, causing a hemorrhagic stroke.
While stroke is only the fifth most common cause of death in the U.S., it is the number one cause of long-term disability. People who have strokes may experience paralysis as well as issues with memory or emotional disturbance.
Dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease aren’t merely a symptom of getting older, and the effects aren’t confined to the brain. While the disease may start with forgetfulness, it can progress until patients are completely dependent on a caregiver for activities of daily living.
Currently, someone in the world is diagnosed with dementia every three seconds, and the number of diagnoses is expected to rise over the next few decades. Unfortunately, we still don’t know the exact causes of dementia or how to cure it.
WHO reports that the deadliest cancers in high-income countries are those of the trachea, bronchus and lungs. Colon, rectal and breast cancer are also included on their top ten list. Cancers of the respiratory system are most often a direct result of smoking tobacco products or inhaling the smoke secondhand. Radon exposure can also lead to the development of cancer.
There is much more uncertainty surrounding colon, rectal and breast cancer. A family history of cancer usually puts patients at a higher risk, as can obesity and poor diet. Because cancer may appear somewhat randomly, it is crucial to visit the doctor regularly to get screened for polyps or lumps.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also known as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, typically develops after years of smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke, although it can also occur from inhaling irritants from polluted air. This can happen in a dangerous work environment or in low-income countries when cooking indoors.
Typically, a combination of mucus buildup and loss of elasticity in the lungs’ air sacs makes it difficult for those with COPD to breathe, which can eventually lead to disability and death.
#6 Lower Respiratory Infections
This is the only illness on WHO’s list that is a communicable disease, meaning it can be passed between individuals. Many different conditions fall within this category, including:
In a healthy person, a lower respiratory infection may pass quickly. However, for those with recurring infections, an oxygen mask or treatment at a hospital may be necessary.
Receive Treatment at St. Hope Foundation in Texas
Whether you’re in your 20s, 80s or anywhere in between, regular doctor’s appointments can help you stave off or manage serious illnesses. The medical professionals at St. Hope Foundation offer a variety of services in Houston and the surrounding areas, from screening and disease prevention to treatment of chronic conditions. Call us at 713.778.1300 to schedule your appointment today.