Major Causes of Death for the Over 50’s

Major Causes of Death for the Over 50’s

Whilst this is a subject that none of us are overly keen to think about, the sad fact is, as get older our risk of a serious health issue occurring does increase. We are basing most of our facts on data taken from government statistics that have been studied over the last ten years or so all the way up to 2017.


In the last thirty years, obesity levels have trebled. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisations, one in four people in the United Kingdom are considered obese. The United Kingdom is now in the unfortunate position of being the leader in Europe’s Obesity League. 

Europe’s obesity league:

Source: The State of Food and Agriculture 2013 (PDF, 2.44Mb), United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation.

The correlation between being overweight and suffering from a serious health issue, for the over fifties, cannot be ignored. At the rate obesity is increasing, it is suggested that over half of the UK population could be obese by the year 2050 which will significantly increase the risks of serious health issues.

Professor Terence Stephenson has written an excellent report, for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC), on the nation’s obesity crisis. The Professor suggests that “The UK is now the ‘fat man’ of Europe.” This interesting report can be found here

As we age, the consequences of obesity on our health can be catastrophic, including diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Many of these illnesses are preventable or manageable by structuring changes in lifestyle, by understanding the impact of poor eating, smoking, drinking and lack of regular exercise. Put simply, people over the age of fifty are dying needlessly from avoidable diseases.

Since 2001, the percentage of deaths from heart disease has halved, and this is for both men and women. Whilst that is a positive fact, what is concerning is that, over the same period, dementia and Alzheimer’s has increased by 60% for men and around 50% for women.

Of course, this must take into account that we do have an ageing population which will influence these results somewhat and also that, as a country, we are becoming much more aware of dementia and Alzheimer’s and the steps we can take to improve our mental and physical health.

Between the ages of 50 to 79, heart disease and cancers were among the most common causes for death. According to the government data, the highest proportion of deaths were caused by poor diet and smoking.

We gathered data from a government report, dated 13th July 2017, on the major causes of death and how it has changed over the years. On the bullet point list below, you can see that men and women have similar health issues but not necessarily in the same order.

Males Aged 50-64

  • Heart disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Cirrhosis and other liver disease
  • Colorectal cancer (Bowel cancer)
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease

Males Aged 65 – 79

  • Heart disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease
  • Cirrhosis and other liver disease
  • Stroke
  • Prostate cancer

Women Aged 50 – 64

  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease
  • Cirrhosis and other liver disease

Women Aged 65 – 79

  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease
  • Breast cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Dementia & Alzheimer’s
  • Stroke

To read the full report from the UK Government website click HERE

This is vital information that may influence some of your choices in regards to your current health concerns. To assist further, we are going to take a closer look at each health issue individually.

1. Heart Disease

The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease.

This is one of the most concerning, as it can lead to instant and sudden death resulting from a heart attack. What happens, over time, is that fatty deposits build up around the walls of the arteries and then this can cause blood clots to form.

The fatty deposits cause narrowing of the arteries which makes it harder for the heart to receive the necessary oxygen and nutrients that it needs to keep it healthy.If you have coronary heart disease, you are much more prone to having a heart attack. This happens when the arteries become blocked and the blood supply can no longer reach the heart.

The heart cannot pump properly when this occurs, and can simply stop beating which will then result in death. If your heart is damaged, this can also lead to heart failure because it cannot efficiently pump the blood around your body as it should.

Your health, at this stage, is severely compromised. You may suffer from shortness of breath causing you to have a limited life and it will not improve over time.

A healthy diet, alongside a healthy lifestyle is said to reduce risk of cardiovascular & heart disease

2. Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a very serious form of cancer and is one of the most common types of cancer. It is rare to see lung cancer in people who are under 40 years old and it is most common in people over 70 years old.

As you age, the chances of lung cancer increases.Initially, there may appear to be few symptoms, but you will eventually notice that you develop a persistent, irritating cough which may result in coughing up blood and it might be a painful cough too. You may feel extremely breathless and tired and, in some cases, experience unexplained weight loss.

Lung cancer, if it starts in the lungs, is a primary cancer. But, lung cancer can develop from another cancer in the body, which then spreads to the lungs.

Unsurprisingly, lung cancer is most common in people who smoke, although it can occur in people who have never smoked. But, considering that, as a smoker, you are inhaling toxic substances every day, it makes logical sense that the risks of developing cancer are higher.

It is said that 85% of people that get cancer are, or have been smokers. The problem with lung cancer is that, by the time you are displaying symptoms, it has already spread to other parts of your body. The outlook at this point is not positive. Survival rates vary depending on many factors, like how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis.


3. Cirrhosis and other liver disease

The liver is one of our most important internal organs and it is the largest. It has so many jobs to do in our body. It helps to break down food and convert it into energy, and plays an important role in getting rid of waste products. The liver helps the body to fight off infection.

One of the most common causes of Cirrhosis is from drinking excessive alcohol which can cause irreparable damage to this vital organ. It can occur from other causes like when there is a build-up of fat within the liver cells.

When the body is obese, the organs get covered with an internal fat called visceral fat. This fat is literally crushing your internal organs. Cirrhosis can also be triggered by Hepatitis and if there is an autoimmune issue caused by acute Hepatitis, where the blood cells literally attack and destroy your liver cells.

Cirrhosis from drinking excessive alcohol can develop within a few months if acute or, if chronic, will cause the damage over a period of a few years. Either way is not good! When you drink to excess, the liver tries to break down alcohol but, as it does this, can cause damage.

This is called Oxidative Stress and it creates inflammation and scarring of the lungs. Alcohol can also damage your intestines, which then release toxins from your gut bacteria into your liver.

If you also happen to be overweight, the liver will struggle even more so. If you are unsure of what is classed as excessive drinking, the suggestions are more than eight units for a man and five units for a woman and, if this is done regularly over a few weeks, the liver will turn the glucose into fat. The end result is that you can die from cirrhosis of the liver.

4. Stroke

A stroke happens when the blood supply to a part of your brain suddenly becomes cut off, thus depriving the brain of oxygen and essential nutrients. When the blood supply stops, you can incur damaged brain cells, or you could die.

There are different types of stroke. When there is a blockage caused by the blood supply stopping, this is called an Ischaemic stroke. If there is bleeding inside or around the brain, this is called a hemorrhagic stroke. You can also have a mini-stroke where the symptoms only last for around 24 hours, because the blockage may have been temporary.

You are more at risk as you age because of the narrowing of the arteries and they also become harder, leading to a possible blockage. It is possible to recover from a stroke but there are many variables.

Some people get back on with a normal life fairly quickly, whilst others may face a lifelong dependency on others for their well-being. Sadly, one in eight people will die within thirty days of having a stroke.

5. Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD) is a very serious illness that affects many millions of people. It actually comprises of a group of three major, life threatening diseases:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Asthma

In chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the obstruction is usually irreversible but may be reversible with asthma.The major cause of CLRD is smoking, accounting for around 80% of cases.

It can also be caused by air pollutants at home or at work, but can also be influenced by genetic factors or a respiratory infection.CLRD is an unpleasant and life debilitating disease. If you are a smoker, you will be advised to stop smoking and will be guided to commence a pulmonary rehabilitation program as well as avoiding further air pollutants.

6. Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a very common type of cancer in men. It is more usually found in men over the age of fifty. It is a cancer that can stay dormant for many years. It is a slow growing cancer generally, but can occasionally grow more quickly and spread around the body.

 If you have an early, localised type of prostate cancer, it will stay in the prostate and not spread. The latter is easier to treat successfully. Symptoms may be similar to an enlarged prostate gland, so an early check up with the doctor is advised.

7. Colorectal cancer

More commonly known as Bowel cancer, colorectal cancer starts in the colon (large bowel) or back passage (rectum). The major risk factor is in being over the age of fifty.

Both men and women can get bowel cancer. Diet and lifestyle can also be a risk factor as can radiation treatment, genetics and family history. From stage 1 to 5, the typical survival rate is generally over five years.

8. Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is more common in women over the age of fifty. There can be a number of possible risk factors for breast cancer like smoking or drinking alcohol, a history of breast cancer in the family and obesity can also be a risk factor.

HRT increases the risks (particularly an oestrogen and progesterone combination). Early detection plays a key role in treatment and recovery.

9. Dementia & Alzheimer’s

When we think of dementia or Alzheimer’s, we recognise symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty with problem solving or thinking. At first, the changes might seem small but can become severe enough to seriously impact your life and the lives of the people around you. Your personality and behaviour can change radically.

Dementia is caused when the brain becomes damaged by disease. This could be from a stroke or from Alzheimer’s. Symptoms will vary depending on which part of the brain has been damaged. It predominantly affects people over the age of sixty five and it affects more women than men.

Scientists are researching the possibility of genetic factors such as an inherited gene. High blood pressure can contribute to risk, as can lack of exercise and smoking as the arteries become narrowed.

A healthy life-style will go a long way to reducing your risk of dementia, especially keeping to a healthy weight. It is also important to stay mentally active by reading, doing puzzles and crosswords etc, and staying socially active, spending time with friends so that your brain stays active.

We hope that you have found this article helpful. We believe that understanding the health risks that you may be facing as you age, you can take the important steps right now to minimise those risks. 


Many health experts believe that the majority of the health issues for the over fifties can be managed or even prevented by living a healthy, active life.

The contents of this article were submitted by an independent writer interested in Over 50’s health and do not represent the opinions of or it’s owners. If you have any comments or suggestion please email me directly