Most Women Die From These 10 Health Issues

Here's how to avoid the top 10 deadliest conditions for U.S. women.

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We’ve all got to go at some point, but why not live the longest, most disease-free life possible? In some cases, lifespan comes down to luck—nine women were killed by lightning in the U.S. in 2016, for example. (Men might have worse luck since 29 died in lightning strikes that same year.)

But healthy living can prevent many fatal conditions. In fact, up to 40 percent of the top five causes of death are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Regardless of when your time’s up, or how you go, healthy living can help you stay active and energetic in the years you’ve got.

Here are the top 10 causes of death for U.S. women, counting up to number one—plus key tips on how to stay well.

Medically reviewed in January 2020. Updated in February 2020.

#10 Septicemia

2 / 11 #10 Septicemia

Septicemia is a serious infection complication that can quickly turn deadly. It happens when an infection travels from one contained area, like a wound or your lungs, to your blood stream. Once there, it can easily reach other organs and progress to sepsis. Sepsis involves multiple organ failure due to widespread inflammation.

The number one way to prevent septicemia is to see a doctor right away if you suspect you have a serious infection like pneumonia, or if you develop a large wound that could become infected.

#9 Kidney disease

3 / 11 #9 Kidney disease

Your kidneys filter blood, collecting bad stuff like waste and toxins, which are then removed via your urine.

With chronic kidney disease (CKD), the kidneys gradually lose their ability to filter blood and form urine. That can lead to blood pressure spikes, potentially deadly abnormal heart rhythms and fluid build-up in the lungs, among other complications. Some people eventually develop irreversible kidney damage. In that case, a dialysis machine is used to filter their blood since their kidneys can no longer do the work.

Obesity, smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure all raise your risk of CKD. Get tips for preventing CKD when you have diabetes.

#8 Flu and pneumonia

4 / 11 #8 Flu and pneumonia

The flu is a virus that’s associated with serious complications like:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Dehydration
  • Pneumonia

The flu can put chronic illnesses like heart disease into crisis mode. Those with chronic illnesses, the elderly, pregnant women and kids are at especially high risk for hospitalization and death.

Both the flu and pneumonia can be prevented with vaccines. Even if you’re young and healthy, the CDC recommends an annual flu shot. It can help you avoid unpleasant symptoms and keep the virus from spreading to others. Still have doubts about the flu shot? Here are 10 flu vaccine myths debunked

#7 Diabetes

5 / 11 #7 Diabetes

Diabetes is the number seven killer of U.S. women, but the actual death toll may be higher, according to the American Diabetes Association. It can cause deadly complications like kidney damage, and people with diabetes often have other illnesses like heart disease, as well. This means that diabetes may not always be recorded as the cause of a patient's death.

Women are especially prone to diabetes when experiencing hormone changes related to:

  • Birth control pills
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause

Keep your scheduled OBGYN appointments if you fall into any of these categories. Your doctor may recommend routine blood tests to monitor your blood sugar levels. 

#6 Unintentional injuries

6 / 11 #6 Unintentional injuries

Unintentional injuries include falls, car crashes, poisoning and burns. Since these are considered “accidents,” they might seem unavoidable. But even unintentional injuries can be prevented with safety precautions.

For example, around half of the motor vehicle deaths in 2014 involved passengers without seatbelts. Buckle up even if you’re just going around the corner—one out of three accidents happen within a mile of home, according to one study.

It’s important to note that drug overdoses are included under “poisonings.” America is currently facing a national opioid epidemic, which claimed more than 42,000 lives in 2016 alone. Opioids are a category of painkiller that includes oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and heroin.

Women may be especially prone to overdoses because they’re more likely to:

  • Suffer from long-term pain
  • Be prescribed pain meds
  • Use opioids for long periods

If you need pain relief, ask your healthcare provider (HCP) about non-opioid options. If you receive opioids, make a plan with your HCP for tapering off from the beginning. Never drink alcohol or use drugs that aren’t approved by your doctor while on painkillers.

#5 Alzheimer’s disease

7 / 11 #5 Alzheimer’s disease

Women are more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and to provide unpaid, around-the-clock care for someone living with the condition. Caregiving can be lonely, interfere with your job and take a serious toll on your health. If you’re a caregiver, know the signs of burnout and get help when you need it.

There’s no way to prevent AD, but you may be able to lower your risk by:

#4 Stroke

8 / 11 #4 Stroke

It's crucial to get immediate help for any symptoms that may indicate a stroke.

Women have a bad habit of disregarding their own physical needs in order to care for others. Drop what you’re doing and call 911 if you experience any of the following:

  • Numbness or weakness in your arms, legs or face
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden confusion or dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • A spontaneous, severe headache

These symptoms might affect one or both sides of your body. If you feel any of them—even just one—call for help within five minutes. Note the time of your first symptom if possible, so emergency personnel can know which life-saving treatments to give you. 

#3 Chronic lower respiratory diseases

9 / 11 #3 Chronic lower respiratory diseases

Chronic lower respiratory diseases include asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and COPD.

Tobacco is the number one risk factor for these conditions. If someone in your house smokes, ask them to take it outside—secondhand smoke contains at least 250 deadly chemicals and limiting smoking to one room won’t keep them contained. If you're a smoker yourself and looking to quit, tracking your daily tobacco use can help. Try an app, like Sharecare, available for iOS and Android, to track your progress and take control of your health.

Live in a highly polluted area? Air pollution cuts life expectancy and ups your odds of respiratory illnesses. Order a fine particle N95 or N100 mask online for around $20 and wear it when working outdoors. It should fit snugly over your nose and under your chin. People with chronic illnesses like heart disease should get a doctor’s help when choosing a mask.

Learn how to curb indoor air pollution.

#2 Cancer

10 / 11 #2 Cancer

Cancer was the cause for 21.1 percent of all female deaths in 2015 alone. Here are some cancers that commonly affect women, plus information on screening and prevention:

Lower your cancer risk in general by quitting tobacco, which accounts for 40 percent of all U.S. cancer diagnoses. Practicing sun safety, limiting red meat and alcohol and adding fruits and veggies to your diet are also key prevention strategies.

#1 Heart disease

11 / 11 #1 Heart disease

Heart disease is the number killer of women, claiming a life almost every minute. You may think, I’m too young for heart disease, or Only the men in my family get heart attacks. These are common, dangerous myths.

You’re never too young or too fit—heart disease affects women of all ages and athletic abilities. You may be at especially high risk if you smoke and take birth control pills. The combination ups your odds of heart disease by 20 percent. Nix the cigarettes and practice these heart-healthy habits at every age.

It might seem like only men get heart disease, but more women die from this condition compared to the overall population. Women are also less likely to survive heart attacks, partly because they tend to experience them later in life, but also because they often don’t recognize the symptoms.

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