Nurses are Masters at the Fine Art of Caring

Death By Natural Causes
© 2007 Kathy Quan RN BSN
All Rights Reserved

As a nurses, you will face death with your patients and loved ones more often than you are ever going to be comfortable with. A common question will com into play often;
What Happened? Often times the answer will be “Natural Causes.” But what is this?

One fact in life is certain; we will all die from something. Simply put, death by natural causes is a death that is not completely unexpected. It is not from an accident, a natural disaster, a homicide or suicide. It is also one that is not preventable.

A disease process that has progressed and caused organ failure is usually the root of the natural cause. These are usually pre-existing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, COPD. The disease processes most commonly associated with natural causes of death are heart disease and cancer. Others include stroke, Alzheimer's Disease, and genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis.

For purposes of health research, public health surveillance, and funding issues, cause-of-death data is usually more specific. The death certificate will list the disease process that is the most probable cause for the death and not necessarily “natural causes”.

Reporting in the Media
In reporting the death of a well-known individual for example, the media may be given “natural causes” as the only cause of death. This is often the case, especially if the underlying chronic disease is not something the person or family wishes to disclose to the public.

Old Age Factors
It is important to note that many times, old age is an influencing factor. For instance, as we age, we are less able to fight off the effects of disease or complications such as pneumonia or influenza. However, "old age" is not an acceptable term to list on a death certificate. Many times, in otherwise healthy individuals, organs fail merely from the fact that they are old and worn out so to speak. This is one of the most common forms of death from natural causes.
In the U.S. and most other countries, the specific cause of death must be noted. This prevents cover-ups of such things as murder or suicide. For further information, read
this article from the CDC.