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Top 12 Causes Of Death In America: What are the Increasing and Decreasing Death Rates and Hope for the Future?

Heart disease and cancer have been the leading causes of death in America for more than 10 years now. These two causes combined are responsible for about 46% of deaths in America.(1) The third leading cause of death in US is chronic lower respiratory diseases and these three diseases that is heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases are responsible for half of the deaths occurring in America.(2)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been examining and gathering about the various causes of death for more than three decades now. This helpful information collected by the CDC has been immensely beneficial to the researchers to help understand if there is a need to deal with any growing epidemics in the medical system.

Causes Of Death In America

The 12 leading causes of death in America are responsible for more than 75% of all the deaths in the country. In this article, we will discuss about each of the causes of the death and what measures can be taken to prevent them. This information is based upon the data taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the year 2017.(3)

  1. Heart Disease is the top most leading cause of death in America amounting for roughly 635,260 deaths in a year.(3)

    The percentage of the total deaths in America from heart disease is: 23.1%.

    Risk Factors: Heart disease is more common in men, obese people, smokers; people over 55 years of age and people having family history of any type of heart disease.

    Causes of Heart Disease: Heart disease is an umbrella term for describing various conditions involving the blood vessels and heart and these are: heart defects; blocked arteries or coronary artery disease; and irregular heartbeats or heart arrhythmias.

    Prevention of Heart Disease: Lifestyle modifications help a lot in preventing heart diseases and these include:

    • Eating a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy fats.
    • Smokers should absolutely quit smoking if they are serious about preventing heart disease.
    • Exercise in any form for half-an-hour daily or five days in a week is mandatory for preventing heart disease.
    • Obese people should lose extra weight and maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Cancer is the Second Leading Cause of Death in America Accounting for 598,038 Deaths in a Year(3)

    The total percentage of deaths in America caused by cancer is: 21.7%

    Risk Factors for Cancer: Each type of cancer has different risk factors; however, there are many risk factors which can apply to the different types of cancers and these are:(4)

    • People who drink alcohol and smoke.
    • People belong to a certain age group.
    • People suffering from persistent or chronic inflammation.
    • People who get exposed to lot of sunlight or radiation.
    • People having a family history of cancer.
    • Obese or overweight people.

    Causes of Cancer(4): When there is rapid and uncontrolled growth of the cells in the body, it results in cancer. Normal cells divide and multiply in a controlled way and then shed eventually. When there is any problem with this process, it results in rapid growth and accumulation of cells developing into cancer.

    Prevention of Cancer(5): There are some behaviors thought to increase the risk of cancer and avoiding these can help in preventing cancer. The following things can be done to prevent cancer:

    • Quitting smoking is vital to prevent cancer.
    • Drinking alcohol in moderation.
    • Always maintain a healthy weight along with exercising regularly and following a balanced diet.
    • It is important to avoid direct sun exposure and to avoid the use of tanning beds.
    • It is important to undergo regular cancer screenings, such as prostate exams, mammograms, skin checks and much more.
  3. Accidents are the Third Leading Cause of Death in America Responsible for Causing around 161,374 Deaths in a Year(3)

    The total percentage of deaths occurring from accidental injuries is around 5.9%.

    Risk Factors: Accidents can be more commonly seen in men; individuals having risky jobs and in individuals aged between 1 to 44 years.

    Causes of Accidents: Accidents are responsible for more than 28 million visits to the emergency room every year.(6) The top three causes of accidental deaths include:

    Unintentional poisoning deaths; unintentional falls; and deaths from motor vehicle accidents.

    Prevention of Deaths from Accident: Accidents can occur from lack of proper action or carelessness. One needs to be always aware of their surroundings and take the right precautions for preventing any sort of injuries or trauma. In case if you have accidentally hurt yourself or if anyone else is hurt, then seek immediate medical treatment for preventing any serious complications.

  4. Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases are Responsible for about 154,596 of Deaths in a Year in the USA(3)

    The total Percentage deaths in America from Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases are 5.6%.

    Risk Factors: Chronic lower respiratory diseases are commonly seen in:

    • Females.
    • Individuals with a history of exposure to secondhand smoke.
    • Individuals who smoke.
    • Individuals over the age of 65.
    • Individuals coming from lower-income households.
    • Individuals having a history of asthma.

    Causes of Respiratory Diseases(7): Respiratory Diseases consist of diseases such as: emphysema; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); pulmonary hypertension and asthma. These respiratory diseases hinder the normal functioning of the lungs and can also cause damage and scarring to the tissues of the lungs.

    Prevention of Respiratory Diseases(8): The use of tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke are the main risk factors in developing of respiratory diseases. To prevent respiratory diseases, one should absolutely quit smoking and avoid exposure to second hand smoke. Other things, such as exercising, healthy diet should also be followed.

  5. Stroke is Responsible for 142,142 Deaths in a Year in America(3, 9)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from stroke is 5.18%.

    Risk Factors for Stroke(9, 10): The following are at more risk for stroke: Men, smokers, diabetics, females who use oral contraceptives; patients suffering from hypertension and heart disease.

    Causes of Stroke(11, 12): When there is any disturbance in the blood flow to the brain or if the blood supply to the brain gets cut off, then it causes a stroke. When there is lack of the oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain, then this results in death of the brain cells within few minutes. The blockage in the blood flow can occur because of any bleeding in the brain or blockage in the artery. The brain bleed can occur from a ruptured blood vessel or from an aneurysm.

    Prevention of Stroke(13): The preventative lifestyle changes, which are needed for reducing the risk of heart disease also applies for cutting down the risk for stroke and are:

    • Eating healthy food and exercising consistently.
    • Losing the excess weight and maintaining an ideal weight.
    • Keeping your blood pressure under control.
    • Quitting smoking.
    • Managing your diabetes and blood sugar levels.
    • Drinking alcohol in moderation.
    • If there are any underlying heart diseases/defects, then treating them immediately.
  6. Alzheimer’s Disease Is Responsible for Causing around 116,103 Deaths in America Every Year(3, 14)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from Alzheimer’s disease is about 4.23%.

    Risk Factors: Alzheimer’s disease is more common in women; people having a family history of Alzheimer’s and people over the age of 65, as the risk for this disease doubles every five years after crossing the age of 65.(14)

    Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease(14): The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not clear; however, according to experts, the potential cause for Alzheimer’s could be a combination of lifestyle factors, patient’s genes and environmental factors, which affect the brain as time goes on. These changes to the brain can occur years and sometime decades before the appearance of symptoms of this disease.

    Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease(15): It goes without saying that one cannot control their genes or their aging process, which are the common risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease; however, you can definitely control and better your lifestyle by doing:

    • Eating a healthy diet comprising of vegetables, fruits and healthy fats with drastic reduction in sugar consumption.
    • Exercising is a must for prevention of any number of diseases including Alzheimer’s. It is important to move your body through the entire day and stay physically active as much as possible.
    • As Alzheimer’s is a disease which affects the brain, hence it is important to engage in mentally stimulating exercises or activities, such as reading, solving different puzzles/problems, and engaging in different types of conversations.
    • If you are suffering from any chronic diseases, it is important to treat them immediately and observe them constantly.
  7. Diabetes Is Responsible For Causing About 80,058 Deaths in a Year in America(3)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from diabetes is roughly 2.9%.

    Risk Factors: The risk of Type 1 diabetes is more in(16):

    • Individuals having a family history of diabetes or having a certain gene which makes them vulnerable to diabetes.
    • Children who are between the ages of 4 years and 7 years.
    • Individuals living in certain climates, such as away from the equator.

    The risk of Type 2 diabetes is more in(17):

    • Adults who are above the age of 45.
    • Obese or overweight individuals are more prone to type 2 diabetes.
    • Individuals having a family history of diabetes.

    Causes of Diabetes(18, 19): The cause of type 1 diabetes is insufficient production of insulin by the pancreas. The cause of type 2 diabetes is becoming resistant to insulin or when the insulin produced is not sufficient to control your sugar levels in the blood.

    How to Prevent Diabetes? (20) Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. However, type 2 diabetes can be prevented by following various lifestyle modifications, such as:

    • Exercising for a minimum of at least 30 minutes daily or at least five days in a week.
    • Eating a balanced diet consisting of lot of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains.
    • Losing excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight.
    • If having a family history of diabetes, then it is important to have regular blood sugar checks.
  8. Pneumonia and Influenza Are Responsible For Causing About 51,537 Deaths in a Year in USA(3)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from pneumonia and influenza is about 1.88%.

    Risk Factors: Pneumonia and influenza commonly occurs in: the elderly people, children, pregnant women and individuals suffering from chronic health issues or with weak immunity.

    Causes of Pneumonia and Influenza(21, 22): Pneumonia is a condition characterized by inflammation or infection of the lungs. Influenza or commonly referred to as the flu, is common in winter season and is an extremely contagious viral infection. One of the leading causes of pneumonia is the flu.

    Prevention of Influenza and Pneumonia(23): Individuals who are in the high-risk category should get a flu shot or a flu vaccine before the beginning of the flu season. To prevent the spreading or contracting of the flu, it is important to thoroughly wash your hands and not visit or go near sick people.

    Similarly pneumonia vaccine should be taken by individuals who are more susceptible for developing this infection.

  9. Kidney Disease is the Cause of about 50,046 Deaths in a Year in America(3)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from kidney disease is 1.8%

    Risk Factors: The following are at increased risk for kidney disease:(24)

    • Individuals who smoke.
    • Individuals suffering from other chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and recurrent kidney infections.
    • Individuals having a family history of kidney disease.
    • Individuals who are obese or overweight.

    Causes of Kidney Diseases: Kidney disease is used to refer three primary conditions: nephrosis; nephrotic syndrome and nephritis. These three conditions occur from different diseases or conditions.

    • Nephrosis(25) is a form of kidney disease that eventually leads to failure of kidney. Nephrosis can also be caused by damage to the kidneys from either chemical or physical changes.
    • Nephrotic syndrome is characterized by increase in the production of protein in the urine by the kidneys, usually occurring as a result of damage to the kidney.(26)
    • Nephritis is inflammation of kidney that can be caused by an infection, an autoimmune disorder or a certain medication which you are taking.(27)

    Prevention of Kidney Disease: As with all the leading causes of death, better overall health helps in preventing kidney disease and this can be done by:

    • Completely stopping alcohol and smoking.
    • Consuming a diet which is very less in sodium.
    • If you are overweight, then losing weight will help in preventing all kinds of diseases.
    • Consistent exercise is a must for prevention of disease and better health.
    • If one is having a family history of kidney disease, then it is important to get regular urine and blood tests done to monitor your kidney function.
  10. Suicide is Responsible for Causing about 44,965 Deaths in a Year in America(3)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from suicide is roughly: 1.64%.

    Risk Factors(28): Suicide can be more commonly seen in:

    • Men.
    • Individuals who have attempted suicide previously.
    • Individuals suffering from any form of injury to the brain.
    • Individuals who misuse drugs and/or alcohol.
    • Individuals having a history of mental health diseases.

    Causes of Suicide(29): Intentional self-harm or suicide is death occurring as a result of a person’s own actions. Individuals who commit suicide deliberately harm themselves hoping to achieve death as a result of that harmful action. Around 500,000 patients are treated in the emergency rooms every year for injuries inflected by themselves.

    Prevention of Suicide(29, 30): The aim of suicide prevention is to find treatment to encourage positive thoughts and eliminate the suicidal thoughts so the suicidal person can find healthier and better ways to cope with their life situation or its problems. Prevention of suicide consists of finding a good support system of family, friends, health care workers and other people who have toyed with the idea of suicide. Some people may need medication and in-hospital treatment for treating their suicidal thoughts.

  11. Septicemia Is The Cause Of Around 38,940 Deaths In America In A Single Year(3)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from septicemia is about 1.42%.

    Risk Factors(31): Septicemia commonly develops in:

    • Young children.
    • Adults who are above the age of 75.
    • Patients suffering from chronic illness.
    • Individuals with weak immune system.

    Causes of Septicemia(31): Septicemia is caused by bacterial infection in the blood and is also referred to as blood poisoning. Most of the times, septicemias develops in a patient after an infection occurs somewhere in the body and then becomes acute and starts to spread.

    Prevention of Septicemia(31): To prevent septicemia, the best way is to treat any bacterial infection present immediately, as soon as possible and thoroughly. If you suspect that you have an infection, then it is important to consult your doctor and start the treatment immediately. Early treatment done completely and thoroughly helps in preventing the spread of bacterial infection from the site of infection into the blood.

  12. Cirrhosis and Chronic Liver Disease Are The Cause Of Around 38,170 In America In A Single Year(3)

    The percentage of deaths occurring from cirrhosis and chronic liver disease is 1.39%.

    Risk Factors:(32, 33) Cirrhosis and chronic liver disease commonly occurs in people:

    • Who are suffering from a viral hepatitis infection.
    • Who have history of excessive alcohol consumption.
    • Who have fatty liver disease.

    Causes of Liver Disease: The cause of cirrhosis and liver disease is liver damage.

    Prevention of Liver Disease:(34) Consult your doctor if you feel you are drinking excessively and get treatment accordingly which can include: therapy; detox; rehab and support groups. The more you drink and the longer you drink, the higher is the risk for developing cirrhosis or liver disease. If you have hepatitis, then strictly follow your treatment to prevent liver damage.

The Good News! Death rates that have been decreasing are…

Deaths caused by pneumonia and influenza are declining and according to the American Lung Association, they have reduced an average of 3.8% per year since 1999.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death; however, the mortality rate from heart disease is also declining over the last five decades. However, in the year 2011, there was a slow rise in mortalities from heart disease seen. Between the years 2011 and 2014, deaths caused by heart disease have increased by 3%.(35)

Deaths caused by stroke have declined by 11% between the years 2010 and 2014.(36)

This declining number of deaths from preventable causes gives us a hope that the health awareness campaigns are working in increasing the awareness regarding the preventive measures, which one can take to avoid diseases and to live a longer and better life.

The Flip Side: Increasing Death Rates

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and there used to be a huge gap between heart disease and cancer. However, thanks to spreading awareness by the American health experts in encouraging their citizens to quit smoking and in early treatment of heart disease, the number of deaths related to heart disease has been steadily declining over the last 50 years. On the other hand, deaths occurring from cancer have been increasing.

Experts of the medicine prophesize that cancer can replace heart disease in becoming the leading cause of death in America.(37) There are about 22,000 deaths differentiating between these diseases as of now.

There has also been a rise in the accidental deaths by about 23% between the years 2010 to 2014.(38) The main cause for this is deaths from substance overdose.

What are the Leading Causes of Death All Over the World?(39)

The leading causes of death all over the world are similar to that of in America and include: Stroke, heart disease, lower respiratory infections, diabetes, lung cancer, COPD, tuberculosis, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; diarrhea and road accidents/injury.


While you can’t prevent every cause of death, you can do a lot to lower your risks of mortality. Many of the leading causes of death, both in the United States and worldwide, are preventable with lifestyle changes, such a better diet, exercise and quitting bad habits such as smoking.


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  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fast https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24165763/ats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
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  12. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/stroke
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  14. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-causes-alzheimers-disease
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30028503/
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  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507713/
  19. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0194127
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893436/
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7116973/
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  23. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2382913/
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089662/
  25. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephrosis
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470444/
  27. https://www.kidney-international.org/article/S0085-2538%2815%2954176-8/fulltext
  28. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00540/full
  29. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide_factsheet-a.pdf
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4969705/
  31. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21539-septicemia
  32. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/0901/p756.html
  33. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482419/
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583179/
  35. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db254.htm
  36. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p1117-preventable-deaths.html
  37. https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2018/18_0151.htm
  38. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p1117-preventable-deaths.html
  39. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 3, 2022

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