Most Adults Dying Prematurely of Natural Causes did Not Seek Medical Help, Report Reveals

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    Working to reduce premature adult deaths in Harris County are UTHealth’s Stacy A. Drake, PhD, MPH, RN; and IFS’s Dwayne A. Wolf, MD, PhD. Credit: Photo by Desmond Bostick/IFS
    Working to reduce premature adult deaths in Harris County are UTHealth’s Stacy A. Drake, PhD, MPH, RN; and IFS’s Dwayne A. Wolf, MD, PhD. Credit: Photo by Desmond Bostick/IFS

    Mega Doctor News

    Newswise — About two-thirds of the adults dying prematurely from natural causes did not seek medical help within the 30 days preceding their death, reported forensic researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (IFS).

    The research, published recently in PLOS One, discovered key factors relating to premature adult deaths by analyzing autopsy reports and medicolegal death investigation records of 1,282 people between the ages of 25 and 59 who died in Harris County in 2013.

    According to landmark research published in 2015, there has been a dramatic surge in the mortality rate of middle-aged white Americans since 1999. Premature adult deaths are defined as deaths before the expected mortality age.


    “I had noticed younger people dying when I worked at the IFS, so I set out to identify the causes in Harris County,” said Stacy Drake, Ph.D., MPH, RN, who is the lead author of the study and now an assistant professor at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth.

    Drake’s team believes this study is unique because they identified characteristics within two growing categories of premature adult deaths: those from natural causes and those from drug toxicity. Identification of common characteristics within these groups, especially modifiable characteristics, could guide interventional strategies for health care providers and public health experts, the authors reported.

    “We were looking for factors that can be changed, e.g. individual, interpersonal, organizational, or community modifications,” she said. “We need to dive into what is going on with these folks and find out where we can break the chain of events leading to their deaths.”

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    Coauthor and Harris County IFS deputy chief medical examiner Dwayne A. Wolf, MD, PhD, said the collaboration with Drake gave his office the unique opportunity to shape the conversation about premature adult deaths.

    “As medical examiners, we perform autopsies and present findings in court. As physicians, we appreciate the opportunity to translate our findings into improvements in health care, in injury prevention, or even in preventing deaths,” Wolf said. “Dr. Drake shares that goal and recognizes the unique value of the data that we gather in the course of our investigations.  She has forged a collaborative relationship with our office, and this latest publication is an example of the power of this collaboration.”

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