What Are the Most Common Fatal Diseases?

Fact Checked

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In the end cardiac arrest and brain death ends all our lives. However, how we get to that moment has changed greatly over the past century. In 1900 pneumonia, tuberculosis and diarrhea proved the leading causes of death. By 2000, this shifted to heart disease, cancer and stroke, according to the National Office of Vital Statistics.

Infectious diseases and accidents continue but 21st century mortality is heavily linked to patterns of eating and sedentary lifestyles.

Fatal Illnesses in U.S.

In 2006, heart disease proved the most common cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This group of diagnoses includes heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrests and disorders of heart rhythm.

Cancer, a group of over 130 separate diseases ranked second, as a cause of death. The most frequent causes of cancer-related deaths in 2006 include lung, colon, breast, pancreatic and prostate cancers. Together this group accounted for 56.4 percent of all deaths from cancer. Due to progress in detection and treatment, by the end of 2005 only five cancers continued to have five-year survival rates less than 20 percent, pancreatic, liver, esophageal, lung and stomach cancer, says the National Vital Statistics Reports.

The third most frequent cause of death in 2006, according to the National Vital Statistic Reports was cerebral vascular accident or stroke. Chronic lower respiratory diseases were in fourth place and all types of accidents were fifth. At sixth place was diabetes followed by Alzheimer's disease. Influenza and pneumonia are listed together as the eight leading cause of death as they can occur simultaneously and diseases of the kidney were ninth place. Septicemia, a general term for blood born infections completed the top ten.

Diabetes-Related Illnesses

Many cases of cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney failure and infections would not have occurred were it not for the patient's underlying type 2 diabetes.

Frank Vinicor, MD, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Diabetes, raised this concern in 2007. Dr. Vinicor estimated that diabetes actually caused 60 percent more deaths than were attributed to it on death certificates. This proves important because federal funding for research, prevention and treatment can closely mirror mortality statistics and the cost-burden of a disease remains partially based on how many years of life a population loses to a given disease.

Most type 2 diabetics die of heart disease, stroke, renal failure or infections and they do so at younger ages than victims of the same disease who do not have diabetes. In the June 11, 2007 issue of "The Archives of Internal Medicine" researchers reported that type 2 diabetes raises the risk of having cardiovascular disease by 250 percent for women and 240 percent for men. They also noted that when type 2 diabetes occurs at age 50 life expectancy becomes reduced by an average of 7.5 years for men and 8.2 years for women, says the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Besides causing heart disease, diabetes also proves the leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for 44 percent of new cases in 2005. Yet the various fatal kidney disorders are listed as a separate cause of death, without mentioning diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

World Wide Fatal Illnesses

The World Health Organization released their list of the 10 most fatal illnesses in 2008 and for the first time they reported coronary heart disease as the leading cause of death globally. Heart and vascular diseases accounted for 12.2 percent of deaths and cerebral vascular accidents, which often occur from the same root causes as heart disease, was the second most lethal illness, causing 9.2 percent of all deaths.

Pneumonia, chronic obstructive lung disease and diarrhea-related illnesses followed and HIV/AIDS was the sixth as a cause of worldwide deaths, though among countries with the lowest 33 percent of gross national product is was the fourth. Tuberculosis was seventh on the WHO global list, followed by lung cancer, road accidents and complications of prematurity or low birth weight. Almost 1.2 million children globally died that year because they were born too early or too small and 71 percent of them were born to women in the poorest third of the world.