Friday, April 09, 2010

All Flesh is Grass

During all the Civil War stuff, I had occasion to do some research about mortality, during that period versus now.

In 1860, the average life expectancy in what was the U.S. varied a bit, depending where you lived, but it was about 40.

Today, it's 78.

What killed most people in the middle of the Nineteenth Century were infections.
65% of deaths were due to these.

From most to least:

Consumption/phthisis/scrofula [tuberculosis]

Diptheria/croup/whooping cough

Pneumonia/lung fever

Typhoid fever

Brain fever/brain congestion [meningitis, encephalitis]

Cholera infantum [diarrhea disease of infants]

Scarlet fever/scarletina

Erysipelas [cellulites]


Lockjaw [tetanus]

Other infections (influenza, mumps, measles, smallpox, etc.)

The other 35% were killed by:

Old age & heart disease* [neuralgia of heart, dropsy]

Cerebrovascular disease [apoplexy, paralysis]

Malignancy [cancer, tumor]

Gastrointestinal disease



Maternal deaths from childbirth.

These days? Leading causes of death are somewhat reversed:

(1) Diseases of the heart, heart attack (mainly) 28.5%

(2) Malignant neoplasms cancer 22.8%

(3) Cerebrovascular disease stroke 6.7%

(4) Chronic lower respiratory disease emphysema, chronic bronchitis 5.1%

(5) Unintentional injuries accidents 4.4%

(6) Diabetes mellitus diabetes 3.0%

(7) Influenza and pneumonia flu & pneumonia 2.7%

(8) Alzheimer's Disease Alzheimer's senility 2.4%

(9) Nephritis and Nephrosis kidney disease 1.7%

10) Septicemia systemic infection 1.4%

11) Intentional self-harm suicide 1.3%

12) Chronic Liver/Cirrhosis liver disease 1.1%

(13) Essential Hypertension high blood pressure 0.8%

(14) Assault homicide 0.7%

15) All other causes other 17.4% (includes accidents, war)

Cheerful subject, isn't it?


Ian SADLER said...

You forgot iatrogenic deaths...

The total number of iatrogenic [induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures] deaths shown in the following table is 783,936.

It is evident that the American medical system is the leading cause of death and injury in the United States. The 2001 heart disease annual death rate is 699,697; the annual cancer death rate, 553,251.



Steve Perry said...

Those sound like malpractice lawyer numbers to me.

What I could find indicates that malpractice and nosocomial infections that lead directly to death are probably nearer two hundred thousand than eight hundred thousand, plus or minus.

Some of the latter infections are due to sloppy sterile technique, but some are due to sick people being in an environment where germs abound and can be traced to sitting in a waiting room or not washing your hands after you grab the doorknob leaving the public toilet. Hard to pin that one down, but if your immune system is compromised, the hospital is a bad place to be.

Malpractice leading directly to death? Depends on whether it's the lawyers or the doctors talking.

What I came across is iffy -- all of the reports are -- and couched in qualifications -- "may have contributed" and "rough estimates."

All depends on whose numbers you like, and it's still awful, but I think your numbers are high.

Dan Moran said...

Shrug. Sometimes doctors get it wrong. But looking at life expectancy -- currently life expectancy is increasing by about 6 hours a day -- it's clear that they get it a lot more right than wrong.