Leading Causes of Deaths in the United States
May 8, 2021
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading causes of deaths in the United States are heart disease, cancer, accidents (like car accidents and medical mistakes), chronic lower respiratory diseases, and stroke. In 2019, more than 1.7 million Americans died from a leading cause of death. While the numbers are tragic, the reality is that we can prevent hundreds of thousands of fatalities each year by taking steps to improve patient care in healthcare settings, protecting workers from known occupational hazards, and by cutting down on dangerous driving behaviors, like being distracted behind the wheel. In this article we will take a look the leading causes of death and examine some well-researched ways that we can make a positive impact on American mortality rates.
Disease-Related Fatalities: Heart Disease, Stroke, Cancer, and Chronic Respiratory Diseases
More than 659,000 people died from heart disease in 2019. Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is an umbrella term for several different types of heart conditions. Some of the most commonly experienced types of heart disease include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or CAD, cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure, congenital heart disease, peripheral artery disease, and arrhythmia. Strokes are also considered to be a type of cardiovascular disease. Strokes kill approximately 150,000 Americans every year.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), there are some factors for heart disease that people have no control over, like their age, sex, family history, and race or ethnicity. For example, as people get older their risk of developing heart disease also increases. Individuals who have a family history of heart disease, such as having a close family member who had heart disease at an early age, also incur higher risks. While people may not be able to control all the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, there are some effective ways they can reduce known risks. Here are a few recommendations from the NLM:
- Stay on top of your blood pressure. People should see a doctor to monitor their blood pressure at least once a year (you may need to go more often if you have high blood pressure). If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about ways to get it under control. This may include making lifestyle changes or taking various blood pressure maintenance medications
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and managing overall stress levels
- Control your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High cholesterol levels can lead to heart attack and coronary artery disease, and high triglyceride levels contribute to coronary artery disease risks, particularly in women
Heart disease and stroke are not the only dangerous diseases that lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. The CDC reported nearly 600,000 cancer-related deaths in 2019. Some of the deadliest cancers are skin cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. Since these cancers all affect different parts of the body and have different warning signs and symptoms, it can feel overwhelming when it comes to trying to lower cancer risks. But the good news is that there are some fairly straightforward, simple steps that anyone can take to reduce cancer risks. Many of these steps are similar to the ones that people take to promote heart health. To limit the chances of developing cancer, the Mayo Clinic recommends that individuals take the following general precautions:
- Avoid smoking tobacco products. Tobacco products are linked to several different types of cancer. If you want to try to quit smoking tobacco products, talk to your doctor about useful strategies that will help you succeed
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Maintain a healthy wait and be physically active
- Protect your skin from the sun. This involves wearing sunscreen, avoiding the sun when its rays are the strongest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and covering exposed areas of skin
- Stay up to date on important vaccinations, like the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B vaccines. Both of these vaccinations are proven to reduce cancer risks. If you do not know if you have been vaccinated, have a discussion with your doctor
Chronic lower respiratory diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), occupational lung diseases, and asthma, are also a leading cause of death. Occupational lung diseases, which sometimes include asthma and COPD, are largely preventable. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workers develop occupational lung diseases when they face dangerous workplace exposures, such as harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, gases, vapors, and sprays. Exposure to these hazards can lead to various types of lung impairments and diseases, which is why it is so critical that employers follow federal laws and provide respirators and other forms of lifesaving protection to workers. When employers fail to utilize federally mandated safeguards they are not only doing something immoral, but they are also breaking the law. When a worker becomes ill or sustains an injury because of his or her employer’s failure to implement an effective safety and health program, it is advisable to file a workers’ compensation claim for lost wages, medical benefits, and more.
As you can see, most of the leading causes of death in the U.S. are linked to diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. But the diseases themselves are not the only cause behind our tragically high death rates, so are medical mistakes like missed or delayed diagnoses, adverse medication events (like giving the wrong medication or the incorrect dosage), hospital acquired infections, and mistakes that involve the administration or dosing of anesthesia. Physician burnout, poor communication between providers, drug names that sound and/or look alike, and care that deviates from the industry standard are all well documented risk factors for deadly medical mistakes.
Some medical mistakes are unavoidable, but others are linked to substandard, negligent care from a provider. When a medical mistake is the result of a healthcare provider’s negligence (either by performing or by omitting something considered to be standard medical practice) and it causes harm to the patient, it is medical malpractice. Victims of medical malpractice should speak with a qualified attorney about what their legal options are in regard to seeking damages for their injuries. Depending on the circumstances that surround a provider’s negligence, victims may be able to seek legal action against a nursing home, hospital, doctor, nurse, psychiatrist, aide, dentist, or other healthcare workers or facilities.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
The last top leading cause of death is motor vehicle accidents, which take somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 lives each year. Similarly to many of the other leading causes of death that we have examined so far, there are several controllable risk factors when it comes to reducing known crash and fatality hazards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, says that one of the best ways to decrease preventable crash rates is to eliminate risky driving behaviors, such as:
- Drunk driving. Although the number of drunken driving-related deaths has steadily decreased since the early 1980s, the numbers are still far too high. Every single death that results from drunk driving is 100% preventable. Drivers must commit to not getting behind the wheel if they are under the influence of alcohol
- Drug-impaired driving, which includes both legal (prescription and over-the-counter medications) and illegal drugs
- Seat belt usage. Nearly 50% of the passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in car accidents in 2019 were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. The NHTSA estimates that wearing a seat belt saves the lives of tens of thousands of drivers and passengers each year
- Speeding, which not only endangers the driver but also every other vehicle (and person) on the road with them
- Drowsy driving, which accounts for hundreds of deaths annually
- Distracted driving, which involves any activity that diverts a person’s attention away from driving. Some of the most common forms of driver distraction are talking or texting on your cell phone, talking to people in the vehicle, tinkering with entertainment or navigation systems, and eating and drinking
At Galfand Berger, our team of attorneys is experienced at litigating a variety of case types, such as medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and automobile accident claims. If you have questions about filing a claim for the injuries you sustained, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.
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