Women face many significant threats to their health, but do you know which are the most life-threatening? Even when the same conditions affect men and women alike, they may affect women differently or with greater frequency.
Here are the leading causes of female fatalities in the United States, according to the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
1. HEART DISEASE 21.8 PERCENT
In the U.S., heart disease causes one in five deaths among women, making it the top health danger. Although it affects men and women about equally, only a reported 56 percent of women realize that it’s their number-one killer. Some women may be asymptomatic, but others will experience angina (dull and heavy or sharp chest pain or discomfort), pain in the neck, jaw or throat or pain in the upper abdomen or back. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
2. CANCER 20.7 PERCENT
According to the American Cancer Society, some of the most common cancers among women include breast, colorectal, endometrial, lung, cervical, skin and ovarian. The best ways to reduce your risk are staying at a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity, following a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, protecting your skin, not smoking, limiting or avoiding alcohol, knowing your family history and having regular checkups and screenings.
3. CHRONIC LOWER RESPIRATORY DISEASES 6.2 PERCENT
Several conditions fall into this category, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, as well as asthma, pulmonary hypertension and occupational lung diseases. Smoking may account for about 80 percent of cases, according to the CDC, but factors like genetics, exposure to pollutants and respiratory infections can be causes, too, according to the CDC.
4. STROKE 6.2 PERCENT
Someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, and the lifetime risk of stroke for women between ages of 55 and 75 is one in five, according to the CDC. High blood pressure, a leading risk factor, affects a reported two in five women. Stroke risk also increases with age, and women statistically live longer than men. Signs of stroke include face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty.
5. ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE 6.1 PERCENT
Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Of the 5 million Americans living with the condition, two-thirds are women, and of the more than 15 million Americans caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, two-thirds are women. Women in their 60s are roughly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.
Women live longer than men, which may be a reason why they are at greater risk, but experts have reason to believe biological reasons also are at play.
6. UNINTENTIONAL INJURIES 4.4 PERCENT
Men are more likely to die from injuries than women at all ages, according to the CDC, but they are the leading cause of death for women ages 18-34. Falls pose the greatest risk for both men and women, especially among the elderly, followed by motor vehicle accidents. Other dangers within this category include suffocation, poisoning and fire.
7. DIABETES 2.7 PERCENT
Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease by four times in women compared to about two times in men. However, women with diabetes may experience many of the same symptoms as men, like increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, weight loss or gain with no obvious cause, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing wounds, nausea and skin infections. Other factors are unique to females, including vaginal and oral yeast infections, urinary tract infections, sexual dysfunction and polycystic ovary syndrome.
8. INFLUENZA AND PNEUMONIA 2.1 PERCENT
Most cases of flu don’t lead to pneumonia, but those that do tend to be more serious and fatal. Pregnant women are among the most vulnerable populations, as are children under age 5, the elderly and those with chronic health problems. If someone contracts a second infection like pneumonia while already fighting the flu, they are at greater risk of hospitalization or death. The annual flu vaccine can reduce your risk from 40-60 percent, according to the CDC. Experts say getting the vaccine is more important than ever this season to help reduce the strain on healthcare systems responding to the pandemic.
9. KIDNEY DISEASE 1.8 PERCENT
Especially among women, diagnosis of chronic kidney disease is increasing. The condition affects a reported 195 million women worldwide, causing about 600,000 deaths annually. Those affected by chronic kidney disease are at greater risk for hypertension and heart-related issues. One reason women are more susceptible is because conditions such as lupus and kidney infection are more common in women. Experts advise limiting alcohol, not smoking, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily and maintaining a healthy diet to help prevent this condition or keep it from worsening.
10. SEPTICEMIA 1.6 PERCENT
More than 1.5 million Americans get sepsis — a bacterial blood infection — per year, and at least 250,000 Americans die from the condition annually. Although it can affect anyone, it is especially dangerous to pregnant women, people with chronic conditions or weak immune systems, adults over 65, those who have recently undergone surgery and children less than I year old. Prompt treatment, typically with antibiotics, is key.