While infectious diseases were the biggest natural causes of death for both men and women worldwide until the second half of the 20th century, non-communicable diseases currently claim more lives than communicable ones. As medical science rapidly progressed post-World War, many infectious diseases were brought under control. The life expectancies of populations across the world also started to improve. With better living conditions and higher standards of living, health, and hygiene, people began to adopt more sedentary lifestyles. The use of modern appliances reduced the burden of work at home for women. The introduction of fast food also decreased the practice of cooking at home. As women began to live longer, age and sedentary lifestyle-related diseases became the leading killers.
The Leading Causes Of Death In Women Worldwide
1. Ischemic Heart Disease
Ischemic heart disease is the leading cause of death among women across the world. It is caused by the narrowing of coronary arteries due to the deposition of debris in the form of plaques. As the debris accumulates, the passage through arteries supplying blood to the heart become narrower. When the heart is unable to receive adequate blood supply, it will be unable to work efficiently. When such plaques rupture, they can completely block the blood supply to the heart causing a heart attack which might lead to death. In Europe, over one in five women die from this disease. Since women have longer life expectancies than men in most countries and healthcare advances are extending life-spans of people, the proportion of women with IHD is believed to increase in the future.
The second leading cause of death among women is stroke. A stroke is an emergency medical situation that happens when the blood supply to the brain or a part of it is cut off. It can happen when a blood clot develops in the blood vessels supplying the brain or when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain. The affected area of the brain often gets permanently damaged and ceases to perform its function. Strokes can end in permanent disability or death. According to estimate, 55,000 more women than men die of stroke each year. Since women live longer than men, strokes have a greater negative impact on the lives of women. A family history of strokes, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, etc., are some of the risk factors for stroke. In addition, some of the risk factors unique to women are taking birth control pills, being pregnant, using hormone replacement therapy, and suffering from migraine headaches.
3. Lower Respiratory Tract Infection (LRTI)
LRTI’s also kills millions of women worldwide. It refers to viral, bacterial, or other parasitic infections of the lower respiratory tract, often involving the lungs. Fever, breathing difficulties, fatigue, and coughing are some common symptoms of such infections. As one age, the LRTI’s become more difficult to cure as the immune system of becomes less efficient with age of a person. LRTI’s caused by viruses are more difficult to cure as they do not respond to antibiotic treatments. Pneumonia, acute bronchitis, lung abscess, etc., are examples of LRTI’s. Again, as women live longer, they are more susceptible to such infections than men. LRTI is thus the top causes of death in many women aged above 65.
4. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a disease associated with the lungs. People with COPD suffer from breathing abnormalities, fatigue, constant coughing, etc. If the causes are not addressed in time, COPD might lead to death. Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Other factors like genetics, exposure to air pollution, cooking fires, and poorly vented heating might also lead to COPD in the long term. The disease triggers the gradual disintegration of lung tissue and chronic inflammation of the lungs narrowing the airways in the organ. Studies report that the prevalence of COPD among women is increasing faster than men. Previously, women mainly suffered from the disease due to exposure to indoor pollutants resulting from the burning of biomass fuels. Today, smoking is also a major cause of COPD in women. While smoking by women was a taboo in many societies across the world in the past, today it is not so. Hence, more and more women have adopted this bad habit leading to increased prevalence of COPD among them.
5. Alzheimer’s Disease And Other Dementias
Dementia refers to the progressive decline in mental and physical functions due to the deterioration of brain activity. A number of diseases can trigger dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. In the case of this disease, dementia is just one of the many symptoms with the others being disorientation, behavioral changes, etc. In most types of dementia, the risk increases with the age of an individual. Thus,
Other Leading Causes Of Death In Women
Other leading causes of death in women in order of the number of female deaths caused by them include diabetes mellitus, diarrhoeal disease, breast cancer, kidney diseases, and hypertensive heart diseases.
Controlling The Growing Burden Of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs)
As seen from the list above, with the exception of lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases, all other leading causes of death in women are NCDs. In fact, NCDs kill more women than CDs or communicable diseases in all parts of the world except Africa. In Africa, 56% of all deaths are related to communicable, nutritional, maternal, or perinatal disease and health issues. Even this situation is about to change in the future as studies predict that even in low- to middle-income countries NCDs will claim more lives than CDs by 2030. As world populations will age, the socioeconomic burdens of treating patients of NCDs will be high. However, such diseases continue to be neglected in most parts of the world even today.