First about Men then about Women

Do you know what threatens your life the most? The list is surprisingly short.
In 2002, 1,199,264 American men died. Nearly 80 percent of them died of heart disease or one of the nine other leading causes of death among American men.
Here's a snapshot of the 10 leading killers of American men in 2002:
Rank Cause % of male deaths
1 Heart disease 28.4
2 Cancer 24.1
3 Unintentional injuries 5.8
4 Stroke 5.2
5 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 5.1
6 Diabetes 2.8
7 Influenza and pneumonia 2.4
8 Suicide 2.1
9 Kidney disease 1.6
10 Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 1.5
Total 79
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004
All but one of these causes of death stroke claim proportionately more men's lives than women's lives at all ages. As a result, the average American man lives 5.4 years fewer than does the average woman. In 2002, male life expectancy was 74.5 years. Female life expectancy was 79.9 years.

It's unclear why men statistically speaking are the weaker sex. Heredity and male sex hormones may play a role, affecting such characteristics as body fat distribution. Specifically, men are more likely to accumulate fat around the abdomen (apple-shape obesity), which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to put on extra weight around the hips. This pear-shape obesity, while unhealthy, is not linked as closely to potentially fatal conditions.

Socially sanctioned "male" behavior may also predispose men to premature death. Men are more likely to smoke, drink, use illicit drugs and engage in casual sex all of which can increase their risk of serious diseases. They're also conditioned from an early age to take risks and behave aggressively, which may partly explain why they have a higher risk of dying from accidents, suicide and homicide.

One thing is clear, though: You don't have to become a statistic. By recognizing the leading threats to your life, you can take steps to reduce your risks.

No. 1 Heart disease
In 2002, 429,682 men died of heart disease, the leading cause of death in both sexes. Because men usually develop heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than women do, they're more likely to die of it in the prime of life. About one-fourth of all heart-disease-related deaths occur in men ages 35 to 65. Only after age 80 do men and women have an equal risk of developing heart disease.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease by making healthier lifestyle choices and getting appropriate treatment for other conditions that can damage your heart, such as high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. Some preventive measures you can take:

Don't smoke or use other tobacco products. Eat a varied diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat foods. Maintain a healthy weight. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Keep your cholesterol levels in normal ranges. Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes. Control your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about a low daily dose of aspirin.

No. 2 Cancer
In 2002, 288,768 men died of cancer, the second-leading cause of death for both sexes. Lung cancer 90 percent of it caused by cigarette smoking is the most common cause of cancer death in both sexes. In 2002, it killed 90,171 men.

Prostate cancer and colorectal cancer both of which are associated with a high-fat diet are the second- and third-leading causes of cancer death in men. In 2002, they claimed 30,466 and 28,501 men's lives, respectively.

Some preventive measures you can take:
Don't smoke or use other tobacco products.
Eat a varied diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat foods.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Limit your exposure to sun and use sunscreen.
Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
Be aware of potential cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) in your home and workplace, and take steps to reduce your exposure to these substances.
Have regular preventive health screenings.
Know your family medical history and review it with your doctor.

No. 3 Accidents (unintentional injuries)
In 2002, accidents killed 69,257 men. Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause. More than twice as many men (31,064) as women (14,316) died in traffic accidents. Male drivers involved in such accidents were almost twice as likely as female drivers to be intoxicated. To reduce your chances of a fatal crash:

Use your seat belt. Keep your speed down. Don't drive while sleepy or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Poisoning was the second-leading cause of fatal injury to men. In 2002, 12,059 men died of poisoning. In comparison, 5,491 women died of poisoning that year. To reduce your risk of poisoning:

Place carbon monoxide and smoke detectors near bedrooms in your house. Have fuel-burning appliances inspected each year. Store household products in their original containers. Read and follow label instructions for household products. Turn on a light when giving or taking medicine and follow label instructions. Ventilate areas in which you use chemical products. Post the poison control number, (800) 222-1222, by each telephone in your home. Falls and drowning were the third- and fourth-leading causes of fatal injury to men. In 2002, falls caused 8,463 deaths among men, compared with 7,794 deaths among women. Drowning accounted for 2,761 deaths among men and 686 deaths among women.

Common-sense precautions such as using a safety ladder, placing nonskid mats in showers and tubs, and never swimming alone in a large or unfamiliar body of water can reduce the risks.

Workplace accidents which include some vehicle crashes, poisonings, falls and drownings are a significant cause of fatal injury to men, partly because men are concentrated in dangerous occupations such as agriculture, mining and construction. Although men hold 53.7 percent of all American jobs, they account for 92 percent of workplace fatalities. In 2002, workplace injuries killed 5,081 men and 443 women.

No. 4 Stroke
In 2002, 62,622 men died of stroke. Although stroke occurs in equal proportions of men and women, men have better chances of surviving than women do. You can't control some stroke risks, such as family history, age and race, but you can control the leading cause high blood pressure as well as contributing factors such as smoking and diabetes.

Additional preventive measures:
Lower your intake of cholesterol and saturated fat.
Don't smoke.
Control diabetes.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Manage stress.
Limit alcohol consumption.
Talk with your doctor about taking a daily dose of aspirin.

No. 5 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
In 2002, 60,713 men died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of chronic lung conditions that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It's strongly associated with lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths among men. The main cause is smoking. Men who smoke are 12 times as likely to die of COPD as are men who've never smoked.

Some preventive measures you can take:
Don't smoke.
Avoid secondhand smoke.
Minimize exposure to workplace chemicals.

No. 6 Diabetes
In 2002, 34,301 men died of diabetes, a disease that affects the way the body uses blood sugar (glucose). Excess body fat, especially around the middle, is an important risk factor for diabetes. About 80 percent of people who have the disease are either overweight or obese.

The diabetes complications most likely to be fatal are heart disease and stroke, which occur at two to four times the average rate in people with diabetes. Men with diabetes haven't benefited as much from recent advances in heart disease treatment as have men without diabetes. During the past 30 years, deaths from heart disease have fallen 36 percent in men without diabetes, as compared with only 13 percent in men who have diabetes.

An estimated one-third of men with the most common form of diabetes don't know they have it. Many are unaware of the disease until they develop complications such as impotence (erectile dysfunction), nerve damage causing pain or loss of sensation in the hands or feet, vision loss or kidney disease.

Some preventive measures you can take:
Maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a varied diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat foods.
Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Get your fasting blood sugar level checked periodically.
Know your family's diabetes history and discuss it with your doctor.

No. 7 Pneumonia and influenza
In 2002, 28,918 men died of pneumonia and influenza. These lung infections are especially life-threatening to people whose lungs have already been damaged by COPD, asthma or smoking. The risk of death from pneumonia or influenza is also higher among people with heart disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system due to AIDS or immunosuppressive drugs.

You can reduce your risk of complications and death from pneumonia and influenza by getting immunized. A yearly flu shot is up to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza in healthy adults. The pneumococcal vaccine can reduce the risk of getting pneumonia by more than half.

No. 8 Suicide
In 2002, 25,409 men committed suicide. Men commit suicide four times as often as women do, partly because they're more likely to use deadlier means such as firearms when they set out to take their own lives. Depression which is estimated to affect 7 percent of men in any given year is an important risk factor for suicide. But male depression may be underdiagnosed, partly because men are less likely than women are to seek treatment for it. In addition, men don't always develop standard symptoms such as sadness, worthlessness and excessive guilt. Instead, they may be more likely to complain of fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbances and loss of interest in work or hobbies. Substance abuse which is more common in men can mask depression and make it more difficult to diagnose.

People at risk of suicide may:
Be depressed, moody, socially withdrawn or aggressive
Have suffered a recent life crisis
Show changes in personality
Feel worthless
Abuse alcohol or drugs
Have frequent thoughts about death
Talk about death and self-destruction If you find yourself avoiding others, feeling hostile and worthless, thinking about death and using alcohol and drugs to numb your pain, talk with your doctor. In an urgent situation, an emergency room or crisis center can help. Friends or family members may be the first to notice your uncharacteristic behavior. Take their advice and seek help.

No. 9 Kidney disease
Kidney failure, most often a complication of diabetes or high blood pressure, took the lives of 19,695 men in 2002. Control of diabetes and high blood pressure can prevent or slow the progression of kidney disease. Another cause of kidney failure is overuse of medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) that are toxic to the kidneys.

Some preventive measures you can take:
Drink plenty of fluids.
Exercise regularly.
Maintain your proper weight.
Don't smoke.
Get checked regularly for diabetes and high blood pressure.
Limit your use of over-the-counter pain relievers.
Take all medications only as directed.

No. 10 Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (17,000)
In 2002, 17,401 men died of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. The leading cause is alcoholism, which takes a heavy toll on men in general. Men account for more than 70 percent of the 75,000 alcohol-attributable deaths that occur each year in the United States. Other leading causes of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis include hepatitis B and C and certain inherited diseases such as hemochromatosis, in which abnormal amounts of iron accumulate in the liver. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is associated with obesity, also sometimes leads to cirrhosis.

Some preventive measure you can take:
Don't drink alcohol to excess.
Take precautions when using possibly hazardous chemicals.
Practice safe sex.
Don't inject street drugs.
Take medications only as directed.
Get a hepatitis B vaccination if you're at risk.
If you develop viral hepatitis, remain under the care of your doctor until you've recovered.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Putting health risks into perspective

It's important to understand that this ranking of health risks applies to the entire population of American men, no matter what their age. Although heart disease is the No. 1 lifetime health threat to men, it tops all other causes of death among men in only two age groups: ages 45 to 54, and age 65 and over. From childhood until age 44, accidents are the most significant threat to men's lives. Cancer emerges as the leading killer only in men ages 55 to 64.

Consider, too, what the numbers mean in real terms. For example, it seems staggering to think that nearly half a million men died of heart disease in 2002. But when you consider how many men lived in the United States that year about 138 million the number represents just a small fraction of the total male population.

The bottom line: Be concerned about health risks, but don't panic. Do all you can to lead a healthy lifestyle eat healthy foods, stay physically active, don't smoke, get regular checkups and guard against accidents. By making these preventive measures a way of life, you'll increase your chances of staying vital and active into your 80s and 90s well beyond the statistical average of 74.5. ====================================== ======================================

Now about Women

Do you know what threatens your life the most?

Below are the top causes of death for women in the United States, starting with the most common. Take this opportunity to learn about each health concern and how you can reduce your risks. What you learn may surprise you.

No. 1 Heart disease
Surprised? Many women are. It's common to think breast cancer is the No. 1 threat to women's health when, in fact, heart disease is responsible for more deaths in women than all forms of cancer combined. Heart disease is the most significant health concern for women in the United States today, responsible for nearly 489,000 deaths each year.
The common belief that heart disease affects mostly men is a dangerous myth. In reality, more women than men die of heart disease in the United States each year. But according to the American Heart Association, only 13 percent of women know that heart disease is a major threat to their health.
The good news is that heart disease is one of the most preventable health conditions. You have the power to reduce some of your risks:

Avoid smoking and limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and
whole-grain products. Exercise regularly.
Control other health conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
If you're at increased risk of heart disease, your doctor also may suggest a daily low dose of aspirin.

No. 2 Cancer
It's easy to believe cancer is a major threat to women's health, but the kinds of cancer women are dying of might surprise you. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the most common cause of cancer death in U.S. women is lung cancer. It's estimated that more than 73,000 women in the United States will die of lung cancer in 2005, with 90 percent of these deaths linked to cigarette smoking.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women, and it's estimated that more than 211,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. The ACS estimates that about 40,000 women die each year of breast cancer.

The third-leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States is colorectal cancer. Like heart disease, colorectal cancer is often mistakenly thought of as a man's disease, but as many women die of colorectal cancer each year. Estimates suggest that it claims the lives of approximately 28,000 women in the United States annually.

At least one-third of all cancer deaths are related to nutrition and other controllable lifestyle factors. Do all you can to reduce your cancer risks:

Don't smoke or chew tobacco.
Exercise regularly.
Eat a healthy diet.
Avoid excessive sun exposure.
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
Have regular preventive health screenings.
Know your family medical history and review it with your doctor.

No. 3 Stroke
Nearly 163,000 people in the United States die of stroke each year, and almost two-thirds of them are women. Stroke not only is women's No. 3 killer, but it also is one of the leading causes of disability in America.

Smoking and uncontrolled high blood pressure are important risk factors for stroke. Although stroke is highly preventable, certain risk factors such as family history, age, sex and race cannot be controlled. Even if you're at increased risk of stroke, you can still take steps to prevent it:

Don't smoke.
Control your blood pressure. Lower your cholesterol.
Limit saturated fats.
Exercise regularly.

4 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
COPD is an overall term for a group of chronic lung conditions, including bronchitis and emphysema. The main cause of COPD is smoking, and it's strongly associated with lung cancer, the No. 1 cause of cancer death in women.

About 64,000 women in the United States die of COPD each year. The quality of life for a person with COPD diminishes as the disease progresses. Shortness of breath and activity limitations develop, and you may eventually require an oxygen tank or even mechanical respiratory assistance to breathe.

How do you reduce your risk of dying of COPD? This one's easy: Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.

No. 5 Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease which affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans is a progressive, degenerative brain disease that goes beyond simple forgetfulness. What may start as slight memory loss and confusion can eventually lead to irreversible mental impairment.

More women than men have Alzheimer's. In fact, nearly 42,000 women die of Alzheimer's disease each year more than twice the number of men. One reason women may be more affected is that women generally live longer, and the risk of Alzheimer's increases with age.

Current treatments focus on stabilizing the signs and symptoms, improving well-being and easing caregiver burden.

No. 6 Diabetes
Diabetes, a group of diseases that affect the way your body uses blood sugar (glucose), is a serious health condition that affects about 18 million Americans. In 2002, it claimed the lives of more than 73,000 people in the United States, and over half of them were women.

It's estimated that 5 million Americans don't know they have diabetes. Many people become aware of it only when they develop one of its life-threatening complications. Advanced diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure and severe nerve damage. People with diabetes are also two to four times more likely to die of heart disease and suffer from stroke.

The most common type of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. This type of diabetes, generally developing after age 40, can often be prevented. Follow these steps to reduce your risk:

Maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a healthy diet.
Exercise regularly.
Get your fasting blood sugar level checked periodically.

No. 7 Accidents
Each year, more than 37,000 women die from accidents (unintentional injuries). Although the statistics on accidental death are unclear, these top health threats for women may surprise you:

Motor vehicle accidents. Traffic-related accidents were responsible for more than a third of all accidental deaths for women in 2002. You can reduce your chances of a fatal crash by routinely using your seat belt, keeping your speed within limits and not driving while sleepy or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Falls. One out of every three people over age 75 falls each year, and about 7,800 women in the United States die from such falls. Three-fourths of all falls occur in the home, so making some common-sense changes can help prevent falls and their potentially debilitating consequences. Getting regular eye exams, exercising regularly and improving your balance also can help reduce your risk.

No. 8 Pneumonia and influenza
Pneumonia and influenza combined are the eighth-leading cause of death for women in the United States today. Together they took the lives of more than 36,000 women in 2002.

When associated with other chronic health conditions, pneumonia and influenza can be life-threatening. People with COPD, asthma, heart disease, diabetes and conditions that suppress the immune system are at high risk. Because both pneumonia and influenza affect the lungs, smoking increases the danger of these two diseases.

The risk of both pneumonia and influenza can be reduced by immunizations. A yearly flu shot can be up to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza in healthy adults. The pneumococcal vaccine can reduce the risk of getting pneumonia by more than half. Stay healthy get those shots.

Putting health risks into perspective
Putting these health risks into perspective is just as important as understanding what the top health threats are. This ranking of health risks applies to the entire population of women in the United States no matter what your age. But for specific age groups, the leading cause of death can shift. For instance, it's true that during the course of your entire lifetime, heart disease is your No. 1 health threat. However, in your 20s, your risk of dying from an accident is your top health threat. Likewise, from ages 35 to 64, your greatest risk is cancer.

It's also important whenever you read about health risks to think about the numbers you read in real terms. For example, that nearly half a million women died of heart disease in 2002 seems staggering. That's a lot of women. But if you think of it in terms of the total number of women in the United States that year more than 146 million the number represents just a small fraction of the female population as a whole.

The bottom line? Be concerned about health risks, but don't panic. Do whatever you can to lead a healthy lifestyle including eating healthy foods, staying physically active, getting regular checkups and paying attention to your environment. Such measures can reduce your risk factors for these conditions and help you lead a long and healthy life.