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The 5 Biggest Causes of Death In The Last Century

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The 5 Biggest Causes of Death In The Last Century

Death holds one the biggest mysteries for us all.  Firstly, we simply can’t know when we will meet our ultimate end.  Secondly, not only do we not know the when, but we don’t know the how.  These two aspects are especially terrifying because it’s the great unknown, and death could literally be waiting for us around the next corner.  There are so many ways to die that death has been given starring roles on television and in movies.  With the show, “1000 Ways to Die”, we learned some of the most bizarre ways that people have kicked the bucket.  With the “Final Destination” movie series, we learned what happens when you cheat death, and were exposed to some of the most terrifying ways to die.

We don’t like to be morbid but death is endlessly intriguing because of its enigma. Obviously, no one can confidently say what death is like, because no one who dies can come back to tell us about it.  Of course, there have been reports of near-death experiences and scientists have made studies on what the brain experiences upon death, yet these intangible reports can’t satisfy the curiosity of going through death for yourself.  Ideally, it would be nice if we could all go through the quiet, peaceful death of slipping away in our sleep, but often death can make a more dramatic entrance… (or should we say exit?)

Essentially, death is something that we can all relate to because some day, yep, we will all meet our end.  Sometimes death is sudden, and sometimes the Grim Reaper can creep up us as slowly as the grass grows. Human nature is designed to be curious, to demystify the unknown, and this curiosity contributes to our fascination with death.

As we’ve grown and evolved in society, so have the personal habits that affect our health. We recently took a look at the leading causes of death last year and now we’ve compiled a definitive list are the 5 biggest causes of death in the 20th century. In comparing society’s fate over twelve months with the much bigger picture, there’s an opportunity to better understand the human journey towards the inevitable end, and to understand where your fate likely lies.  As you read this list, no doubt there’ll be some self-reflection on how to dodge these causes of death so you can enjoy life for longer. Since 2000, things have changed – a lot – and we’re sure that the list same list for the 21st century would have some very different varieties. But for now, let’s look at how most of our descendants met their end in the last century.

5. Health Complications – 278 million


Between 1900 and 2000 the health systems were improving, but for most of the century they were nowhere near today’s standard. The major health complications that led to death in this time came from pregnancy and infant deaths. Specifically, nutritional deficiencies caused 59 million casualties, birth defects 51 million, maternal conditions led to 64 million deaths, and perinatal conditions caused 155 million deaths.  Health complications could be small, unobtrusive pre-existing conditions that, due to the way in which they are managed, become fatal. With the continuing developments in the medical field in the late 1900s and 2000s, it’s highly likely this cause of death will feature less dominantly on the list in future years.

4. Cancer – 530 million


Cancer has become such a talking point in our society that, sadly, it’s hard to meet someone who doesn’t have some sort of connection to the disease.  In the last century, some of the most prominent killers where cancer was concerned were lung cancer at 93 million (stay away from those cigarettes and secondhand smoke, kids), stomach cancer at 64 million, colorectal cancer at 47 million, liver cancer at 46 million, and breast cancer at 36 million.  These aren’t the only cancers out there, but they were the major killers that many people have had to deal with. But, don’t be discouraged. Despite the fact that modern technology and genetic modification is said to be a contributing factor to cancers, cancer research is continually progressing and scientists are still hopeful  that viable cures could be discovered.

3. Humanity – 980 million


Okay, so this one may be a bit broad, but we human beings are responsible for a lot of death of our own species – as grim as that is.  Hand us keys to a car and give us the potential to kill someone in a car accident.  Or, morbidly, someone could take the life of another person and commit murder – which accounted for 177 million deaths in the last century.  And let’s not forget war and the casualties both in the military and civilian populations – accounting for 131 million deaths between 1900 and 2000.  And of course there’s regular old accidents that killed 298 million – not only automobile related, these could be as simple as falling off a ladder, or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Humans have to take responsibility for deaths from tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse – misuse of drugs killed 115 million people in the last century. Then we have air pollution with a whopping 116 million deaths. The statistics also show ‘death by ideology’ at 142 million.  But what do we mean by this? Wars, genocide and governmental mismanagement, of course. We have communism, that led to 94 million deaths -with China and the Soviet Union leading the numbers – and fascism, including Nazi Germany.  And finally, suicide was a major cause of death taking the lives of 89 million people in the last century.

2. Infectious Diseases – 1680 million


Ah yes, the reason why masks are worn in public and your parents tell you to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.  Infectious diseases are something that we deal with on a daily basis and are ready to treat at a moment’s notice.  Flu season would have meant a death sentence earlier in the 20th century, but by the end of the century, it could be taken care of with a simple shot.  Some of the more prominent and deadly infectious diseases include respiratory diseases killing 485 million, and smallpox trailing behind at 400 million.  And then we have diarrhoea – with 226 million deaths.  Granted, earlier in the 20th century having diarrhoea could mean a death sentence but these days it’s almost always treatable – at least in the Western world.  Dysentery and cholera resulted in chronic diarrhoea that usually dehydrated their victims to death.  So take your vitamins and your vaccines, cover your mouth, and stay healthy!

1. Non-Communicable Diseases – 1970 million


For our grand finale, we have non-communicable diseases (other than cancer) as our number one cause of death in the 20th century.  These diseases are not passed from person to person, but instead dwell within your body.  Leading the way are cardiovascular diseases including conditions such as stroke and heart disease.  The heart is the central energy point, the driving force of the body’s system and when it fails the risk of death is high.  Then, in second place we have respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which combined took the lives of 274 million people.  Leading in third place of this larger category is digestive illness with 147 million lives taken from conditions such as appendicitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and peptic ulcers. Genitourinary diseases took 63 million lives; this disease affects the body’s ability to clear out waste and fluid, leaving all that toxic material in the body. Then we have diabetes with a death toll of 73 million.  As stated previously, many of these diseases were unmanageable in earlier parts of the century, hence the high casualty rate.  Sometimes, though, innovations and breakthroughs in the medical field – regardless of the era – may not be enough to combat and conquer these fundamental conditions.  It’ll be interesting to see how treatment for non-communicable diseases will evolve – if it reduces the death toll, then science is definitely heading the right direction in ensuring that as many people as possible live long and productive lives.

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