OUNCES OF PREVENTION
Death may be inevitable, but like taxes, sometimes it can be forestalled. Regular checkups and talking about any new symptoms with your doctor are of key importance in detecting any life threatening-conditions and assessing risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual list of the leading causes of death highlights what women should watch out for. (2015 data is the most recent available.) Simple lifestyle choices can make a huge difference in ensuring a healthier and fuller life.
Percent of deaths annually: 22.3
Heart disease — the leading cause of death for men and women — can take many shapes and forms, and can even be present without obvious symptoms. Risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Prevention: A heart-healthy lifestyle includes regular cardiovascular exercise, a diet low in sodium and saturated fats, and keeping stress to a minimum. Don't smoke, and avoid processed meats and sugary beverages in favor of legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Percent of deaths annually: 21.1
A large group of diseases characterized by malignant cell growth in one or more parts of the body, cancer is a close second to heart disease. It's the first leading cause among Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women, at 26.6% percent, 22.1% percent, and 18.4% percent, respectively. Cancer research is constantly advancing, bringing new hope to those with even a terminal diagnosis, but cancer still remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
Prevention: Early detection remains one of the most important ways to beat this deadly disease. Knowing your genetic risk factors and making sure to get proper screenings at home and in the doctor's office are key to identifying cancer early. But there are also lifestyle choices that could help keep cancer at bay: Don't smoke; eat a plant-based diet; drink in moderation; get vaccinated for Hepatitis B and HPV; use sunscreen; and avoid the midday sun, the Mayo Clinic says.
CHRONIC LOWER RESPIRATORY DISEASE
Percent of deaths annually: 6.2
This category includes disease like chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. The main symptoms of these diseases include shortness of breath, cough, and mucus production. Deaths from these diseases are highest among white women at 6.8 percent.
Prevention: Avoiding smoking and other air pollutants is key. Smoking cigarettes is far and away the main cause of COPD — the deadliest disease in this group. Smokers are 12 times as likely to die of it; others should avoid secondhand smoke and irritants such as air pollution and chemical fumes. Chest-opening stretches and breathing exercises can also help keep the lungs and surrounding organs in good condition.
Percent of deaths annually: 6.1
While often confused with a heart attack, a stroke is it's own deadly event where there is a problem with the blood supply to the brain. Brain cells may be permanently damaged if cut off from oxygen for too long, sometimes resulting in death. Among Asian-American women, it is the third leading cause of death at 8.2 percent.
Prevention: Keeping your cholesterol levels and blood pressure within suggested levels are two major ways to reduce your likelihood of having a stroke. Harvard Medical School experts also recommend exercising regularly, not smoking, and maintaining a diet based around whole grains, fish, and vegetables, and low in cholesterol and sodium. Such a diet can also prevent high blood sugar levels, another major contributor to stroke. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is also key in getting immediate emergency care that could save someone's life.
Percent of deaths annually: 5.7
Alzheimer's disease is a devastating reality affecting many people, especially women. Its causes are still not totally understood but are considered to be a combination of factors including overall health and lifestyle, genetic disposition, and environmental toxins. The chronic neurodegenerative disease hits white women slightly harder than other races — 6.1 percent. The disease, the most common form of dementia, usually starts slowly and worsens in a span of years, causing memory loss, disorientation, mood swings, and other cognitive issues.
Prevention: While not all cases of Alzheimer's are thought to be preventable, there is an increased risk of developing it when other aspects of health are out of balance. Keeping a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may all be protective against this disease. Maintaining strong social connections into old age and avoiding head trauma also tend to lower risk, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Percent of deaths annually: 4.0
Accidents happen to people of all ages, and sometimes they are deadly. Older people are especially prone to unintentional injuries as ordinary tasks become more difficult to carry out.
Prevention: Exercising caution whenever possible is an easy way to avoid some accidents. Some things can never be anticipated, and all we can do is pay attention and try to stay out of harm's way. Following basic safety guidelines like buckling seatbelts and refraining from cell phone use while driving can only help. Installing some cheap safety upgrades around the house can't hurt, either.
Percent of deaths annually: 2.7
There are different types of diabetes that pose different threats. When not treated or managed properly, the negative effects can extend to all areas of health and lead to death. These metabolic diseases are characterized by high blood sugar levels over long periods and are particularly deadly for Native American women (6.0 percent).
Prevention: Some types of diabetes are preventable by following a healthy diet with plenty of exercise, while others require medication along with healthy lifestyle choices. Staying active and eating a fiber-rich, low-glycemic diet can help keep the body as healthy as possible and reduce the risk of complications from diabetes. Overweight individuals and those who have a family history of diabetes are at a higher risk, though even they can take steps toward prevention by slimming down, exercising regularly, and eating better.
INFLUENZA AND PNEUMONIA
Percent of deaths annually: 2.3
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by many viruses and bacteria, most of which have already been cured in the form of vaccines. These common illnesses are life-threatening mostly to people with compromised immune systems, and the very young and very old. These diseases afflict Asian women more, for 3.3 percent of their deaths.
Prevention: Opting to get a flu shot is a good idea for anyone who is at an increased risk of serious illness or death from the flu or pneumonia. The CDC also recommends keeping up with vaccinations for measles, varicella, and whooping cough, and avoiding infection by coughing into your elbow, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, and washing hands regularly. Keeping the immune system supported with natural supplements like ginger and garlic may also help keep the body strong.
Percent of deaths annually: 1.8
The kidneys are responsible for cleansing the blood, which is essential to staying healthy. While a person can live with kidney disease with the help of dialysis, it is only a temporary way to treat the underlying issue. Kidney disease kills black women at a higher rate than other groups (3.1 percent).
Prevention: Luckily, for most people there are many ways to ensure your kidneys stay healthy. Keeping alcohol and sugar intake to a minimum, staying hydrated, and maintaining a healthy weight are all ways to support proper kidney function and health.
Percent of deaths annually: 1.6
Septicemia is blood poisoning caused by bacteria. It can result in the entire body going into shock and eventually shutting down.
Prevention: Septicemia is an emergency condition that needs immediate care. The best way to prevent this from being deadly is to see a doctor if an infection is suspected or shows signs of progressing.