Critical Illness in the Western World

Cancer, Stroke, and Heart Attack: Critical Illnesses in the Western World

critical illnessIn the second half of the twentieth century, there was a change of lifestyle in the western world of the sort that had never been undergone before in human history. Some of these changes may have led to increases in the numbers of critical illness we see today, especially cases of cancer, stroke, and heart attack.

Diets had changed drastically by the 1970s; people began eating more animal products and taking in more sugar and fat. They also consumed higher levels of alcohol than they had earlier in the century.

Additionally, people changed their behaviours. As modern technology made many daily activities easier, people became more sedentary. This was exacerbated by the popularity of inactive entertainment, like television and video games. Smoking, although it would decline in the second half of the century, continued to be practiced by about 20% of the population near the end of the century (and still today).

All of these factors that are part of the western lifestyle are now contributing to the incidence of critical illness in our society. It is thought that lifestyle may play a role in each of the three leading causes of death in the western world: heart attack, cancer, and stroke.

Heart Attack

Heart attack is the leading cause of death in men and women throughout the world. A heart attack occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the heart, causing damage to the heart and an interruption of oxygen supply. There are a number of symptoms that signal the onset of a heart attack, the hallmark sign being chest pain that radiates into the left arm or neck. There are also many risk factors that are thought to contribute to the risk of heart attack, such as age, gender (male), high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and obesity. The western lifestyle particularly has contributed to the incidence of heart attacks by increasing the amount of fat and animal products consumed, which contributes to weight gain, hypertension, and diabetes.

In addition to the risk of death that a heart attack carries, it also can lead to a prolonged period of disability. In many cases, the disability occurs because after one heart attack, and individual is at an increased susceptibility of having another. Thus, many of the lifestyle factors that may have contributed to the heart attack: stress, hypertension, anxiety, etc., must now be managed and contained. Since work may be a situation that raises blood pressure or stress levels, it may have to be avoided. Therefore, individuals without critical illness insurance who have a heart attack may find themselves struggling to provide an income to pay their medical bills.


Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the UK and the leading cause in the developed world. The term cancer actually refers to a collection of diseases, which can affect a number of different organs, but all of which involve unregulated cell growth. This leads to the formation of tumors, or abnormal growths in the body, that begin to interfere with vital functions if unchecked. Some of the common cancers in the western world include: lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

There are many potential causes of cancer, and the root cause will differ depending on the type of cancer that develops. Lifestyle is thought to play a large role, however, in the development of cancer. Perhaps the best example of this can be seen with the sharp rise in lung cancer rates that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, which is thought to be due to drastically increased levels of smoking in the decades prior. Other lifestyle factors that are thought to increase one’s risk of cancer include diet, alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise, excessive sun, and exposure to toxins and chemicals. Specifically, diets high in red meat and low in fruits and vegetables are thought to increase cancer risk.

A battle with cancer can be physically debilitating. Treatment also can last a long period of time and include methods like chemotherapy, which bring with it side effects including severe nausea, fatigue, and immune system depression. These serious side effects can make working difficult, if not impossible. Most who find themselves in a struggle against cancer will need to have the ability to rest and recover during their most intense treatment periods.


Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and causes 10% of deaths across the world. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted, which causes damage to the brain. The risk factors for stroke are similar to those of heart attacks, and include: age, hypertension, diabetes, and smoking. Thus, many of the aspects of the western lifestyle that may increase a risk of heart attack also can increase the risk of stroke.

A stroke carries with it the risk of death, but a stroke also can result in long-term neurological damage. Stroke is the primary cause of disability in the United States and Europe. Stroke survivors may have difficulty performing any number of daily functions after their stroke, including speech or simple motor tasks. Recovery often involves long-term physical therapy. In addition, after a stroke there is an increased risk of future cerebrovascular accidents. Thus, care must be taken to avoid some of the risk factors that might foster any sort of cardiovascular disease.

Critical Illness

Heart attack, cancer, and stroke are the three leading causes of death throughout most of the world. As medical technology has improved, our ability to live longer has allowed lifestyle diseases to have more of an effect on our lifespan. While it is essential to be aware of the risk factors for these diseases, planning for the future is also critical. Many people try to practice a healthy lifestyle to avoid a heart attack or cancer, but they do not invest in critical illness insurance to provide for the possibility that such an unfortunate event occurs. Yet, planning for the unexpected may be just as important as changing your lifestyle. Medical science may help you to survive a heart attack, cancer, or stroke, but it will still expect you to pay the bill for your treatment.

Fortunately it is possible to insurance yourself against these conditions as well as a number of other critical illnesses. Critical Illness Insurance will remove the financial worries of serious illness and therefore also aid your recovery.

To find out more call us on 020 8979 9684

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