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slides: Rhode Island’s Top 10 Killers

Thursday, October 11, 2012


What diseases and related causes kill the most Rhode Islanders every year? And what can you do to make sure you stay away from these grim tallies? Here are the Top 10 killers in Rhode Island, based on the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control.

Note: for national rankings, a lower number means a higher rate. For example, a #1 ranking in heart disease would mean a state's rate is the highest (or worst) in the nation. Correspondingly, a higher number means a lower, or better, rate (a #50 ranking in diabetes would mean a state's rate is the best in the nation). (Additional research by Monica White)


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#10 Suicide

118 deaths in 2009 in RI

10.7 deaths per 100,000 population

UP 23% from 2007

National rank: #41

Rhode Island's death rate from suicide experienced the greatest increase among the Top 10 causes of death in the last two measurable years, according to the CDC.

And while RI may place relatively low nationally in terms of deaths by suicide, it leads the nation in suicide attempts. Local efforts include the adoption of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) by the Providence Center and in the emergency rooms at Roger Williams and Fatima Hospitals in the spring of 2012.

Local help and information: RI Department of Health-funded RI Youth Suicide Prevention Project (RIYSPP) and Samaritans of Rhode IslandPhoto: Real Image Artist/flickr

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#9 Kidney disease

190 deaths in 2009 in RI

13.9 deaths per 100,000 population

UP 9.4% from 2007

National rank: #30

On the rise as a cause of death in RI, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition in which the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood as well as possible. This damage can cause wastes to build up in the body and lead to other health problems, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), anemia, and bone disease. Overall CKD is more common among women than men, and nationally, 10% of all people age 20 and older have CKD.

Local help and information: While there is currently no RI-based organizations that support kidney research, the National Kidney Foundation has a New England office, and on October 28, 2012 will be sponsoring a Kidney Walk in Cambridge, MA.

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#8 Influenza + Pneumonia

222 deaths in 2009 in RI

16.3 deaths per 100,000 population

UP 1.2% from 2007

National rank: #23

Ranking in the top half of the nation for deaths related to influenza and pneumonia, RI experienced a small uptick in this death rate in the most recently measured period by the CDC.

In preparation for this year's flu season, the RI Dept. of Health (HEALTH) will be running flu clinics at schools statewide for students K-12 beginning this month. Further, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of RI will be offering free flu vaccines to un- and under- insured RIers (go here for the schedule).

Local help and information: HEALTH maintains an active data base of information, including prevention tips and updates on flu activity in RI.

Photo: Samantha Celera/flickr

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#7 Diabetes

213 deaths in 2009 in RI

16.7 deaths per 100,000 population

Down 13% from 2007

National rank: #46

While diabetes is the #7 cause of death in RI, it is on the decline and ranks very low overall nationally--both good news.

Diabetes, a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both, is also the #7 leading cause of death in the United States, and it's estimated that 7 million Americans currently have the disease but are undiagnosed.

Locally, according to HEALTH, almost one in four RIers are at high risk of developing diabetes and more than 30,000 already have diabetes and do not even know it.

Local help and information: Both the RI office of the American Diabetes Association and the Defeat Diabetes Foundation have local resources.

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#6 Alzheimer's disease

321 deaths in 2009 in RI

22.2 deaths per 100,000 population

No change from 2007

National rank: #34

Also the nation's #6 leading cause of death, Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia among older adults. According to the CDC, about 5 million Americans currently suffer with Alzheimer's. In RI, the death rate from this disease remains flat.

Local help and information: The Rhode Island Alzheimer's Association runs programs throughout the year. Coming up: an educational lecture on diet and cognition on November 8, the Reason To Hope fundraising luncheon on November 15, and the Culinary Challenge for the Cause on November 28. For more information on these and all upcoming events, visit www.alz.org/ri or call the Chapter Office at 1-800-272-3900 for more information.

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#5 Accidents

428 deaths in 2009 in RI

36.2 deaths per 100,000 population

UP 4.6% from 2007

National rank: #36

Car crashes as well as unintentional injuries, poisonings and falls all combine to tally up as accidents in Rhode Island, according to the CDC. Nationally, death by accident has steadily been on the rise throughout the decade as it is here in Rhode Island.

And the toll is heavy on America's youngest: Unintentional injuries were the #1 cause of death for people ages 1- 42 years, as well as the #5 leading cause of death for all ages. Photo: Pargon/flickr

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#4 Stroke

429 deaths in 2009 in RI

31.8 deaths per 100,000 population

Down 5% from 2007

National rank: #46

While RI's death rate from stroke has both dropped since its last measure in 2007 and ranks very low overall among states nationally, stroke is in fact the #4 cause of death in the United States today. Sometimes called a brain attack, a stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Currently, someone dies from a stroke every 4 minutes in the US, according to the CDC.

Local help and information: The American Stroke Association maintains a database of "Target: Stroke" Honor Roll Sites--hospitals that employ what the ASA calls "the right treatment, right away." Rhode Island Hospital is designated an Honor Roll site on the latest list. For more on stroke, prevention, and local events, go to www.strokeassociation.org.

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#3 Lung disease

511 deaths in 2009 in RI

40.2 deaths per 100,000 population

UP 22.9% from 2007

National rank: #36

Second only to suicide in terms of rise in death rates in the last 2 years of measurement, lung disease is among RI's Top 3 causes of death, claiming more than 500 lives in 2009.

Officially grouped as Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases that include asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other lower respiratory illnesses, CLPD has surpassed stroke as the #3 leading cause of death in the US. 

Of the diseases included in the data, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which combines many of the features of both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, accounts for more than 120,000 U.S. deaths each year, and causes serious, long-term disability. Often COPD symptoms are dismissed as natural signs of aging, or being out of shape. Photo: Shnnn/flickr

Local help and information: The American Lung Association of the Northeast is the go-to organization for information as well as activism. Start training now for the 2013 Fight For Air Climb/Peak the Plaza fundraising stairclimb in downtown Providence in February. For more, go here.

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#2 Cancer

2,220 deaths in 2009 in RI

175.8 deaths per 100,000 population

Down 2.9% from 2007

National rank: #23

With a slightly declining death rate, cancer remains the #2 killer of Rhode Islanders, claiming more than 2,200 lives in 2009. Nationally, cancer is also the #2 cause of death, killing more than half a million Americans every year. And globally, more people die from cancer than from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, according to the CDC.

Nearly 4 out of every 10 RIers will develop cancer at some time in their lives, according to the RI Dept of Health's Cancer Registry.

Local help and information: There are many diverse organizations that raise money for specific cancers; in October, RI focuses on Breast Cancer as it is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For more, go to the RI Breast Cancer Coalition and the Gloria Gemma Foundation.

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#1 Heart disease

2,411 deaths in 2009 in RI

176.3 deaths per 100,000 population

Down 14.9% from 2007

National rank: #24

Heart disease remains the #1 killer both here in Rhode Island and nationwide, although the death rate from heart disease has declined substantially in RI.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2008 were in men.

Local help and information: The American Heart Association's Rhode Island office is at 1 State Street in Providence, (401) 330-1702. Don't miss checking out the annual Go Red For Women programs that raise special awareness and funds for women and heart disease.


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Of course, if you were being objective, you have listed abortion as the leading cause of death in Rhode Island. It is the leading cause by far. By not listing it, you contribute to the denial of such massive numbers of violent deaths.

Comment #1 by Bill McKenna on 2012 10 11

If we were talking about leading cause of death of the Rhode Island economy, the #1 answer would be "The Democrat Party".

Comment #2 by Russ Hryzan on 2012 10 11

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