Respiratory Disorders

Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, including bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and allied conditions, ranked fourth as causes of death in the United States in 1994, while pneumonia and influenza ranked sixth (Rosenberg et al., 1996). Over 100,000 people in this country died of obstructive pulmonary diseases, and over 80,000 died of pneumonia and influenza in that year.

With the exception of deaths caused by asthma, which increase steadily until age 75 and then decline, deaths due to most respiratory disorders decline during childhood and then increase in frequency throughout adulthood. The death rate for chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases is slightly higher for males than females, but the reverse is true for deaths caused by pneumonia and influenza. Furthermore, the death rates for almost all respiratory diseases are higher for whites—male and female—than for blacks.

Cigarette smoking, air pollution, stress, and sedentary habits are among the risk factors for respiratory illnesses. Because of the ready availability of pneumococcal and influenza vaccines, influenza and pneumonia are much less common than they once were. Despite advances in the prevention and treatment of these two acute disorders, many patients whose bodies have been ravaged by heart disease, arthritis, rheumatism, and other diseases may eventually die from pneumonia. Older adults, in particular, are highly susceptible to influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.

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