Cause of Death Defined, Discerned, and Discussed

Odds are you don’t go a week without hearing reference made to “cause of death.” Although we all may hear and read discussion of “cause of death” with notable frequency, the reality is that we may not have the most precise, accurate definition of “cause of death” in our minds. Indeed, there are even some concepts many of us associated with cause of death that are wholly inaccurate. In order to garner a clearer, more accurate understanding of this important term, “cause of death” is defined, discerned, and discussed for your consideration. 

Basic Definition of Cause of Death

“Cause of death” is defined as the specific conditions (disease or illness, for example) that result in a person’s death. The cause of death is what is recorded on a person’s death certificate. For example, if a cause of death is natural, the death certificate would identify the disease or illness. If a cause of death is not natural, the death certificate would identify that reason as well (like a gunshot). 

Cause of Death Versus Manner of Death

The terms “cause of death” and “manner of death” oftentimes are used interchangeably. Many people understandably believe these two phrases to be synonymous. They are not.

As was discussed a moment ago, cause of death is the term used to delineate the medical reason why someone died. Manner of death is the way in which a death is classified. A death can be classified as natural (by disease or illness) or unnatural (by suicide or homicide). In addition, when an investigation into a death is ongoing, the manner of death temporarily may be classified as “pending.” There are instances in which the actual manner of death can never be determined for one reason or another. In such a situation, the manner of death will be listed as “undetermined.”

Old Age: Not a Scientifically Recognized Cause of Death

Due to relatively widespread misconceptions and misinformation, a discussion of what is and isn’t a bona fide cause of death is important. With regularity, we hear that a person “died of old age.” Indeed, based on how commonplace old age is attributed as a cause of death, you might fairly conclude that it is the most frequent cause of death in California and across the United States. In fact, “old age” is not a scientifically recognized cause of death at all.

There is an array of different types of aging-associated diseases that result in the deaths of a good many people each and every year. In addition, biological aging can be a contributing factor to a person’s death, but it technically, medically, scientifically is not the actual cause. For example, the aging process may enhance heart disease in an individual. In such a situation, aging contributed to but did not cause the death of that person. 

Approximately 150,000 people die around the world each day. Of that number, about 100,000 die from some sort of age-related disease or illness. The global rate of death by an age-related disease or illness is about 66 percent of all people who pass. In industrialized nations like the United States, that rate is upwards of 90 percent. 

Death by Emotional State: A Scientifically Recognized Cause of Death

There is a considerable amount of discussion of the idea of death by emotional state. For example, we oftentimes hear or read about being scared to death, dying of loneliness, or dying of heartbreak. Unlike the concept of dying of old age, death by some type of emotional state is in fact a scientifically recognized cause of death. 

Technically speaking, death because of an emotional state is known as psychogenic death. An emotional state can result in a person’s heart rate increasing significantly. The emotional state at issue can result in some type of cardiac failure. 

It is not only a major scare that can have the ability to cause death, other emotional states like loneliness and so-called heartbreak can also cause death. An emotional state brought on by loneliness or heartbreak can cause what medically is known as Takotsbubo cardiomyopathy. Emotional distress like the death of a loved one, a relationship breakup, or even a constant state of anxiety, can result in a temporary weakening of the muscular element of the heart. The net effect of all of this can be congestive heart failure, lethally abnormal heart rhythms, or even rupture of the wall of the heart. 

Cause of Death and Health Hazard Issues

Finally, understanding an underlying cause of death is vital when it comes to ensuring that a deceased body not expose others to harmful pathogens (or disease-causing germs) in the immediate aftermath of a death. While human remains left unattended can result in presence of dangerous pathogens, assuming an individual didn’t die as the result of some sort of highly infectious disease, human remains are not necessarily immediately dangerous directly after death.