The #1 Cause of a Terminal Illness, Say Doctors

While life can be really beautiful, meaningful and fulfilling, life will also come to an end at some point. The question is just when? While we don't know, we can try to prolong a good quality life with healthy habits and avoid diseases when possible and that includes terminal illnesses. While we can't avoid every health issue, there are ways to help reduce the risk and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with  Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shares the top ranking terminal illnesses, their causes and preventive measures to take. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Terminal Illness

Dr. Mitchell says, "A terminal illness is a physical ailment that cannot be cured and will eventually result in death. Terminal illnesses can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, infections, and lifestyle choices. Cancers, heart disease, and kidney failure are all examples of terminal illnesses. While there is no cure for a terminal disease, treatments are available that can prolong life and improve the quality of life for patients. Sometimes, a terminal illness can be diagnosed early enough that preventative measures can be taken to delay its onset. However, once a terminal disease has progressed to a certain point, treatment options are limited, and the prognosis is generally poor. As such, diagnosing and treating terminal illnesses is often a complex and emotionally fraught process."



Portrait of doctor with face mask and clipboard looking at camera in hospital.

COVID has spread rapidly around the globe since it was first discovered over two years ago and while there's no surefire way to avoid catching it, there are preventive measures to take to lower the risk of severe illness or death, which include vaccination, boosters, maintaining a strong immune system and wearing a mask around others not in your household. 

Although there's still so much to be learned about the virus, the World Health Organization states, "Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus," and the Mayo Clinic says, "In 2019, a new coronavirus was identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that originated in China. The virus is known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease it causes is called coronavirus disease 2019."

Dr. Mitchell tells us, "The ranking for number #1 causes of terminal illnesses has fluctuated over the past few years, and quite frankly, the ranking could change from when this article is written to the time of its publication. As of March 2020- January 2022, a new number one cause of terminal illness— was COVID-19. This statistic is sobering, as for as long as I can remember, heart disease was the leading cause of terminal illness. As of August 15th, 2022, COVID-19 had killed at least 6.5million people worldwide. The United States has the most COVID-19 deaths that have been documented compared to any other country in the world."


Heart Disease

woman holding heart

Dr. Mitchell says, "This was the leading cause of death in America and worldwide is heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for over 600,000 deaths yearly. While there are many different types of heart disease, they all involve some type of damage to the heart muscle. This can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood effectively, leading to symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Unfortunately, there is no cure for heart disease, but treatments can help to improve symptoms and quality of life."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common causes of heart disease include: "High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, overweight and obesity, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use."

In addition, the Cleveland Clinic states, "Heart disease is 90 percent treatable – everyone can prevent heart disease anywhere in the world, especially by eating foods that are low in salt and cholesterol, exercising regularly, and not smoking," said Leslie Cho, M.D., Section Head for Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic. "Even if a person has a family history of heart disease, we can still prevent and treat heart disease thanks to incredible advances in medicine."



Mature woman with cancer in pink headscarf smiling sitting on couch at home

Dr. Mitchell explains, "Though cancer is not always fatal, it is the second leading cause of death by terminal illness worldwide. Cancerous cells form when the body's natural cell reproduction process goes awry. These cells divide and grow without regard for the surrounding tissue, and they often spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. Cancer can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices like smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise, and exposure to carcinogens. Early detection is critical to successful treatment, but cancer often does not exhibit symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. When this happens, treatment options are limited, and the prognosis is generally poor."



driver having back pain

Dr. Mitchell reveals, "Accidents are a leading cause of death in America, accounting for over 200, 000 deaths each year. Accidents are sudden and often unpredictable events that can lead to serious injuries or even death. They can be caused by everything from car accidents and falls to fires and drowning. While there is no sure way to prevent accidents, wearing seatbelts and being careful around potential hazards can reduce the risk of injury or death. Also, avoid distracted driving and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol."



man hold his had and suffering from headache, pain, migraine

Dr. Mitchell shares, "Stroke is a leading cause of death in America, accounting for nearly 140,000 deaths each year. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing brain tissue to die. This can lead to paralysis or other serious disabilities. Strokes can be caused by blockages or bleeds in the brain, and they can be fatal if not treated quickly. However, quick treatment can minimize damage and improve outcomes."


Respiratory Illnesses

Business woman working from home wearing protective mask

Dr. Mitchell says, "Lower respiratory disease is the fourth leading cause of death in America, resulting in over 140,000 deaths yearly. Lower respiratory diseases include conditions like bronchitis and emphysema. These diseases cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways, making it difficult to breathe. In severe cases, patients may need a ventilator to help them breathe. There is no cure for lower respiratory diseases, but treatments can help to improve symptoms and quality of life."


Doctors Still Trying to Understand Why Some People Get Terminal Illnesses and Others Do Not

middle-aged man chatting with doctor

According to Dr. Mitchell, "While there is much that doctors still do not understand about why some people get terminal illnesses and others do not, there are a few possible explanations. One theory is that genetics plays a role. If someone has a family history of a particular terminal illness, they may be more likely to develop it themselves. Another possibility is lifestyle choices. For example, people who smoke or drink heavily are more likely to develop certain types of cancer.

Exposure to toxins or viruses can also increase the risk of developing a terminal illness. Finally, some people may simply be unlucky. Even with healthy lifestyle choices and no family history of an illness, people will sometimes develop a serious health condition. While there is still much to learn about why some people get terminal illnesses and others do not, researchers continue to work towards finding answers.

Death is something that everyone will face at some point, but the cause of death can vary greatly from person to person. While we may not be able to avoid all risk factors for terminal illness, understanding them can help us to make better choices about our health and well-being. By understanding the risks, we can often find ways to mitigate them and live longer healthier lives."

Dr. Mitchell says this "doesn't constitute medical advice and by no means are these answers meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it's to encourage discussions about health choices."