The top causes of death for women in Tennessee are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower
respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s, and cerebrovascular diseases. These are different from the
leading causes of death for men and for women in the United States. Evidence suggests that a
healthy diet and exercise can prevent or mitigate the effects of all of these diseases. Find out more
about these health issues, their prevalence in our state, and how to prevent them.
The leading cause of death for women in the United States and in Tennessee is heart disease.
Most of the problems associated with heart disease can be prevented with a healthy diet, healthy
weight, and regular exercise. However, over 60% of women in Tennessee are overweight or
obese, and nearly 1/3 of Tennessee women reported no physical activity in the last 30 days.[iii]
Taking advantage of East Tennessee’s parks, walking trails, and farmer’s markets can be a great
way to improve area women’s health and reduce the number of deaths caused by heart disease.
The second leading cause of death for women in the US and Tennessee is cancer of all types.
Respiratory cancers, which are often attributable to smoking, caused 55% of cancer deaths for
women in Tennessee. Women in Tennessee are more likely to smoke than the national average,
but Tennessee offers the QuitLine, a free, personalized resource to help quit
smoking. Breast cancer, which is the second highest cause of cancer deaths for women in
Tennessee, can be treated successfully with earlier detection via self exams and/or mammograms.
Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
The third leading cause of death for women in Tennessee is Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases,
which encompasses a range of illnesses such as COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
Individuals with these main CLRDs are likely to have all of them, and they are often caused by
smoking. However, other factors such as secondhand smoke and air pollution can also cause
respiratory disease: high rates of smoking and air pollution in the state may explain why Tennessee
women are more likely to die from respiratory diseases than women across the nation. As with
other illnesses, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and smoking cessation can reduce a woman’s risk
for chronic lower respiratory diseases.
The fourth leading cause of death for women in Tennessee is Alzheimer’s Disease, which is a form
of dementia. Alzheimer’s itself is not generally considered deadly, and some people can live for
a very long time with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but the average life expectancy is only about 8
years. Dementia can lead to poor heath as patients forget to eat or drink – cachexia (loss of
appetite, muscle loss, etc.) and dehydration are two of the leading causes of death in Alzheimer’s
patients. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but early detection can enable treatment that may
delay the severity of its effects. The causes of Alzheimer’s are still unclear, but scientists are
finding that staying active physically, mentally, and socially may prevent the deveopment of the
disease in most people.
The fifth leading cause of death for women in Tennessee is Cerebrovascular Diseases, which affect
the blood vessels leading to and in the brain. Cerebrovascular diseases often lead to a stroke, or
a loss of blood flow to parts of the brain. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for a
stroke; other risk factors include smoking, diabetes, and obesity. Women can be particularly
susceptible to cerebrovascular problems, as pregnancy, estrogen therapy, and birth control pills all
increase a woman’s risk of blood clots. Genetic factors may also increase the risk of stroke,
and many of these are more common in women. Women who have a family history of strokes or
clotting disorders should communicate with their doctor about testing so that treatment with aspirin
or other blood thinners can help to prevent a stroke or other clotting problems.
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