As the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) drenched the country this month, every bucket dumped brought attention (and cash flow) toward finding a cure for a devastating neurological disease. It’s an example of a fundraising effort gone (incredibly) right. The ALS Foundation estimates that it's raised more than $100 million (last year, the association says it raised less than a quarter of that).
And while any effort that helps to destroy a destructive disease is just that, helpful—the ice craze has brought into question how many other diseases, foundations, and causes are in need of similar PR. Below, the three diseases that are killing Americans the most—and how you can lower your risk for each. The good news: All three are largely preventable.
The killer: Heart disease.
Why: It remains underdiagnosed in women, with 8.6 million per year dying from it worldwide, according to the Heart Foundation. In fact, women are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than men. Why? Women wait, on average, six minutes longer than guys to receive treatment for heart attacks, a recent study showed. Plus, the typical "Hollywood heart attack" symptoms—the dramatic pain in your left arm, clutching your chest, falling to the ground—are more common in men. Women suffering usually experience chest pressure, tightness, or discomfort, or nausea, and often associate those symptoms with anxiety or indigestion.
Your healthy living fix: Genetic factors aside (take it up with mom and dad), there's a lot you can do to lower your risk of heart disease, such as following a healthy diet, exercising moderately, and keeping your stress level down.
The killer: Lung cancer
Why: Cancer rates across the board have been declincing since 2006 in both men and women—except lung cancer, which is the leading cancer killer of both men and women. The disease causes more deaths than the next three cancer killers—pancreatic, breast, and colon—combined, the American Lung Association reports.
Your healthy living fix: Quit smoking (and yes, that includes vaping). Like, yesterday. Once you do, you'll join a well-known club of quitters that includes celebrities like Gisele, President Obama, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Aniston. Nicotine replacement therapies such as Zyban and Chantix, as well as giving your mouth something to chew on (try sugarless gum or hard candies), drinking a glass of water every time you feel a craving coming on, and remembering to take it one day at a time can all go a long way toward helping you ditch your habit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends writing down the reasons why you want to quit. Get more tips here.
The killer: Chronic obstructive pulmonday disease (COPD)
Why: Consider it the lesser-known cousin of heart disease and lung cancer. More than 12 million adults in the U.S. have COPD—and many probably don't know it. A progressive lung disease, COPD eventually weakens your lungs enough that you can't breathe and can develop for years without symptoms.
Your healthy living fix: Like lung cancer, the primary cause of COPD is smoking, followed by being exposed to second-hand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes, such as cooking fuel (a common cause of COPD in the developing world). Still, while not all of those who have COPD are smokers, the COPD Foundation says that 90 percent are or used to be, so your best bet is simply to stop lighting up.