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The Leading Causes of Death in Hawaii

What's Killing Us? You’ve got to go somehow. Here are the things you should really worry about.


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We all know we need to eat fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep and exercise and make appointments for yearly checkups—all of which are easier said than done. And despite our best efforts, we’re all going to… well, let’s face it, die. Last year in Hawaii, 9,627 people died, according to the state Department of Health’s preliminary 2010 vital statistics. (On the upside, 18,933 babies were born.) So what are the leading causes of death in Hawaii? You might be surprised by some of them. We used data from the most recent Hawaii State Data Book—but we’ve also included contact information for the nonprofits that help us combat these leading causes of death, whether through support groups, education or fundraising for research.

No. 1 Schemic Heart Disease

Heart disease,  specifically ischemic heart disease, is the No. 1 killer. (Ischemic refers to a reduced blood supply to the heart because of coronary artery disease.) In 2008, it claimed 1,275 lives in the Islands, and it’s the leading cause of death for both men and women, not only here but across the country. Ischemic heart disease can cause congestive heart failure, such as a heart attack or arrhythmias.

Fighting Back against Heart Disease and Stroke

The American Heart Association of Hawaii deals with both of these leading causes of death. Honolulu office: 538-7021, americanheart.org/hawaii.

Next event: Black Tie & Blue Jeans at Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa. July 16, 6 p.m., 457-4971. Other events include the posh Honolulu Heart Ball in February, the Golf Classic at Mid-Pacific Country Club in April and fun runs throughout the year on multiple islands.


Hawaii’s adult smoking rate in 2010, down from 15.4 percent in 2009.

Hawaii’s Health Disparities

Native Hawaiians are at a higher risk than the rest of the population for the majority of the leading causes of death in Hawaii. Researchers and health organizations believe it’s due both to genetics and socioeconomic factors, such as lack of education, lower income and decreased access to healthcare and insurance. Imi Hale, the Native Hawaiian Cancer Network, works to reduce the rate of cancer and the mortality rate from cancer among Native Hawaiians and other minority populations. The program provides educational materials on different types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, colon and skin cancer, and more. The pamphlets come in both hard copy and PDF formats. “These materials are made in Hawaii, with Hawaii faces, with Hawaii words,” says research director Kathryn Braun.

No. 2 Stroke

The No. 2 killer in Hawaii is cerebrovascular disease, commonly known as a stroke. According to the most recent Hawaii State Data Book, 629 people died from strokes in 2008. Unlike the majority of the top medical killers on our list, more women than men die from strokes in the state. “It’s because women live longer, when they get a stroke they are older [and less likely to survive them]. Men get strokes when they are younger,” says Dr. Kore Liow, the medical director of neuroscience at Castle Medical Center and the director of the Hawaii Pacific Neuroscience Center. Liow started the neuroscience center in Kailua because “there’s a huge elderly population on the Windward Side, including a lot of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease patients,” he says. Hawaii has the second-largest elderly population in the United States, per capita, after Florida. Liow works with stroke survivors as well as those with varying progressions of Alzheimer’s disease. To better help stroke patients, he is also in the process of starting the Hawaii Memory Clinic at the center. “It’s an interdisciplinary approach that brings together different specialties,” he says.

What Is a Stroke?

A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain (an ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts (a hemorrhagic stroke).

Every 40 Seconds

Someone in the U.S. has a stroke.

By the Numbers

Around 800,000 people in the U.S. have strokes each year. Around 185,000 people in the U.S. who survive strokes eventually have another. Today, more than 6 million people have survived strokes. Every three to four minutes, someone in the U.S. dies from a stroke.

Signs of a Stroke and What to Do

If someone is exhibiting possible symptoms of a stroke, such as a severe headache, sudden confusion, numbness on one side of the body or trouble walking, use the F.A.S.T. method: Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred? Time: If you observe these signs, call 911.

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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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