• Question: why do some diseases make you die?

    Asked by jlster143 to Paul, Lyn on 28 Jun 2013.
    • Photo: Ee Lyn Lim

      Ee Lyn Lim answered on 28 Jun 2013:

      Diseases that cause death do it by shutting down the functions of some of your organs, and they can do it in any number of ways. If a bacteria or virus infects an important organ, it’s easy to see how – if the tuberculosis bacteria destroys your lungs, or if the Hepatitis virus stops your liver working, for example. Some bacteria are actually fairly harmless (for example if they’re just infecting a wound on your skin) but will kill you if they get into your blood – that’s because the same inflammation that makes your skin turn red and swollen around the wound will then happen in your WHOLE BODY – all your blood vessels suddenly expand let lots of water out into your tissues, so your blood pressure drops like a rock. That’s called toxic shock syndrome.

      In the same way, non-infectious diseases can also kill you if they manage to shut down your organs. Heart disease is an obvious one – you can’t stay alive if your heart doesn’t pump blood! Cancer is a sneaky one, because it can destroy organs close to the tumour simply by squashing them, or it can metastasise all over the body and disable all the organs at once. Many other diseases like multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy also kill you by taking away your ability to move (by taking out your nerves or muscles), so that you stop being able to breathe.

      Some other diseases are a bit different – they don’t kill you themselves, but they make it really easy for other diseases to kill you! HIV is a classic one. The virus attacks your immune cells – that in itself doesn’t kill you, but when other bacteria or viruses come along, you have no way of fighting back at all, and even a simple flu can kill you! Sometimes people who take immunosuppressants, such as people who have had an organ transplant, will also not have a working immune system, so diseases that are usually harmless in other people can make them extremely ill.

      But, as Peter’s mentioned in another question, the only reason you die is because your brain can’t get enough oxygen! So whatever organ a disease damages, in the end it stops blood carrying enough oxygen from getting to your brain, which is when you die!

    • Photo: Paul Waines

      Paul Waines answered on 28 Jun 2013:

      Hi jlster143

      Diseases stop your body from working properly- if the disease is really good at doing this, then you can die because your body cannot recover from what the disease is doing to it. It kind of ‘breaks down’ to the point where it can’t be fixed.

      Quite often a disease will attack a certain part of the body, and this can cause death. For example, meningitis can cause the brain to swell up dangerously, while heart disease can cause the heart to fail.

      However, there are other diseases which affect many parts of the body at the same time. A good example is cancer. These cause a lot of deaths because they make treatment very hard.

      I don’t mean to scare you, but there are so many diseases out there that can make people die! Thankfully the body has had thousands of years to learn how to deal with most of them, most of the time!

      Hope this answers your question- if not ask again we don’t mind!