What Does it Mean to Die of Natural Causes?

by Christine Lebednik

Death in humans can occur for many reasons, including accident, intentional violence, and through the activity of internal physiological causes that occur independent of outside agents. Professional and legal professionals classify death that comes about through the action of one of these physiological processes as a death that has occurred through natural causes.

General

While, generally speaking, death by natural causes involves an absence of external, precipitating agents, some unusual exceptions to can occur. For example, death caused by a heart attack would usually qualify as a death by natural causes. If a medical expert, such as a coroner, determined that the heart attack was the actual cause of death, then this would still qualify as death by natural causes even if a specific event triggered the heart attack such as witnessing an impending car crash involving loved ones or hearing a particularly disturbing news story. If, however, the deceased individual experienced an assault that precipitated the heart attack, that most likely would not get classified as death through natural causes but as a result of the violent action of the assault.

Disease

One category of death by natural causes involves death that results from a disease. As of 2011, some of the most likely diseases to directly result in death through natural causes include diseases such as cancer, some types of hepatitis, and AIDS. Modern immunization protocols have eliminated many diseases that in the past often had fatal outcomes. Such diseases that have now become rare or nonexistent include scarlet fever, yellow fever, tuberculosis and polio.

Disorder

A disorder involves an ongoing malfunction of one or more bodily systems that results in a gradual overall physiological deterioration. Disorders can lead to death by natural causes through such circumstances as heart or kidney failure or from stroke resulting from years of stress on the individual's overall physiology. Diabetes and hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, provide examples of disorders that can result in a natural causes death by triggering a fatal physiological event separate from the ongoing physiological characteristics of the disorder itself.

Congenital

Some individuals have a compromised physiology from the outset. Medical professionals use the term congenital for potentially life-threatening conditions that exist at the time of an infant's birth. In some instances, doctors can correct congenital conditions. In other instances, however, the medical profession can offer no known treatment and often the congenital condition worsens progressively until death results.

Aging

The aging process also often contributes to the occurrence of death through natural causes. Although aging itself is not an actual cause of death. However, as an individual ages, the systems of the body naturally begin to break down and function less effectively. This can lead to diseases and disorders most commonly associated with age, such as Alzheimer's disease and some forms of cancer. Individuals of advanced age may also suffer from a greater susceptibility to illnesses that can result in fatal outcomes, such as pneumonia.

About the Author

A writer/editor since 1984, Christine Lebednik has spent much of her career in business and technical writing, and editing. Her consumer print and online articles include product descriptions for TDMonthly Online, book reviews for Catholic News Service, consumer reports for Consumer Search and works for various other publications. Lebednik received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Salem State College.

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