TV dramas always show a woman dying in a shocking accident or as the innocent victim of a senseless murder. Or there’s period dramas, where the woman dies tragically in childbirth. (Remember Sybil’s death in Downton Abbey? There’s even a published paper about it!) But the reality is much more mundane–these highly emotional and ghastly events are not what’s killing women. What actually happens is much more tragic–because, in general, the causes of death in women can be avoided, at least to some extent.
Women have caught up with men in one dismal category–heart disease is now the number one killer for women, too. Heart disease killed nearly 300,000 women in 2017, accounting for about 20% or 1 in 5 of all deaths for women. The best way to prevent heart disease is by adopting a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy body weight, doing regular cardiovascular exercise, quitting smoking, and taking steps to keep your blood pressure down.
Remember that heart attack and heart disease symptoms can be different for women. Women often don’t experience the classic chest pain shown in the movies–they don’t clutch their chest and collapse while doing some type of activity. Symptoms for women can include neck, jaw, shoulder, or upper back pain as well as shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, sweating, dizziness, or unusual fatigue. These symptoms can happen while you are at rest. Make sure you are working with your healthcare providers to keep your heart healthy with regular checkups and testing.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, followed by breast cancer. Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women, but it’s the most deadly type of cancer for men and women. It kills almost 1.5 times the number of women who die of breast cancer, and it kills more people than colorectal, prostate, and breast cancer combined. Smoking is by far the top cause of lung cancer–it is linked to 80-90% of all lung cancers. If you don’t smoke, don’t start; if you do smoke, stop now. Avoiding secondhand smoke and other air pollutants can also help you bypass this most dangerous of cancers.
Other cancers that affect women often include colorectal, endometrial, cervical, and ovarian cancers. Your best bet at fighting any type of cancer is to catch it early. Work closely with your healthcare providers and stick to a regular schedule of screenings to make sure you find any type of cancer at the earliest possible time.
Chronic Respiratory Diseases
These diseases slowly but surely kill. The types of chronic lung diseases that most often affect women are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)–which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema–and, you guessed it, lung cancer. These diseases all can cause swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes, slowly narrowing the airways and affecting the amount of oxygen that can circulate throughout your body. Smoking affects your breathing, too, so if you smoke, stop immediately. If you have trouble breathing, work with your healthcare providers to get the best treatment for your specific issue. This may involve medications, breathing exercises, and/or breathing treatments. Keeping your lungs healthy is critical to your overall health.
Did you notice that smoking is related to every one of these top causes of death in women? Some experts say that quitting smoking is the best thing a woman can do for her health. Smoking is not only tied to causes of death, but it can affect a woman’s reproductive health.
We’re all going to die. Like taxes, death is inevitable, but we do have some control over the diseases that cause that death. Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating healthful foods, and maintaining a schedule of testing and evaluation with your healthcare provider can help you avoid some of the causes of early death.
- Millions of Downton Abbey viewers in mourning after Lady Sybil’s shock death from eclampsia
- Lady Sybil’s death in Downton Abbey: how right and wrong are her doctors?
- Leading Causes of Death – Females – All races and origins – United States, 2017
- Women and heart disease
- Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
- Cancer Facts for Women
- Lung Cancer Is the Biggest Cancer Killer in Both Men and Women
- Lung Cancer Statistics
- Lung disease
- Smoking: A Women’s Health Issue
- Chest Pain: Heart Attack or Something Else?