In the United States, the top three causes of death in 2020 were heart disease, cancer, and COVID-19. Accidents and stroke round out the country’s top five causes of death that year. And the leading worldwide cause of death for 2020 was ischemic heart disease, with stroke coming in a close second.
In 2020, there were
This article focuses on the 10 biggest causes of health-related deaths in 2020 in the U.S. and worldwide. Gaining awareness of the leading causes of death and how to help prevent them may allow people to live a long, healthy life.
Read on to learn more about the 10 biggest causes of death and how to help prevent them.
According to the
|Cause of death||Total number of deaths||Percentage of total deaths|
|1. Heart disease||696,962||20.6%|
|4. Accidents (unintentional injuries)||200,955||5.9%|
|5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)||160,264||4.7%|
|6. Chronic lower respiratory diseases||152,657||4.5%|
|7. Alzheimer’s disease||134,242||4%|
|9. Influenze and pneumonia||53,544||1.6%|
|10. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis (kidney disease)||52,547||1.6%|
1. Heart disease
- Deaths in 2020: 696,962
- Percentage of total deaths: 20.6%
The leading cause of death in 2020 was
Plaque buildup causes arteries to narrow and stiffen, which can impede blood flow. This may lead to blood clots, stroke, or heart attack. It can also cause angina, heart arrhythmias, and heart failure.
Prevention includes exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and maintaining a moderate weight.
- Deaths in 2020: 602,350
- Percentage of total deaths: 17.8%
The two main types of cancer are:
- Hematologic (blood) cancers: Cancers of the blood cells include leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
- Solid tumor cancers: These cancers involve a malignant lump or growth that affects the body organs or tissues. The most common types are breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers.
Causes of cancer include genes, lifestyle habits, and environmental toxins. Often, the cause is unknown.
Exercising regularly, following a nutritious diet, and avoiding extended sun exposure may help prevent cancer. Other preventative measures include limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking.
- Deaths in 2020: 350,831
- Percentage of total deaths: 10.4%
In 2020, COVID-19 was a leading cause of death for the first time. A virus called SARS-CoV-2 causes
SARS-CoV-2 spreads in three principal ways:
- Inhaling air when near a person with the infection who is exhaling small droplets and particles containing the virus.
- Small droplets and particles that carry the virus landing on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially via splashes and sprays, including coughs and sneezes.
- Using hands that have the virus on them to touch the eyes, nose, or mouth.
COVID-19 can cause mild-to-severe symptoms or no symptoms at all. Older adults and people with certain underlying medical conditions are more likely to become severely ill from the disease. It is also possible to develop post-COVID conditions.
Helping prevent COVID-19 involves getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and washing hands often. People can also avoid crowded places, indoor spaces, and close contact with other individuals.
4. Accidents or unintentional injuries
- Deaths in 2020: 200,955
- Percentage of total deaths: 5.9%
The most common types of accidents are:
- unintentional falls
- motor vehicle traffic deaths
- unintentional poisoning deaths
To prevent death from accidents and unintentional injuries, communities can implement and improve strategies and projects that relate to walkable communities, safe routes to school, and transportation safety.
There are certain programs that help prevent falls in older adults and focus on:
- home safety
- physical activity
- medication management
5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)
- Deaths in 2020: 160,264
- Percentage of total deaths: 4.7%
Following a healthy lifestyle helps
6. Chronic lower respiratory diseases
- Deaths in 2020: 152,657
- Percentage of total deaths: 4.5%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases affect lung function, which can impede airflow and lead to shortness of breath, a chronic cough, and excessive sputum production.
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- pulmonary hypertension
People can prevent chronic lower respiratory diseases by quitting smoking, limiting exposure to allergens and pollution, and eating a nutritious diet.
7. Alzheimer’s disease
- Deaths in 2020: 134,242
- Percentage of total deaths: 4%
Dementia is a general term for the decline of memory, language, problem-solving, and additional cognitive capabilities that become severe enough to affect daily life.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It is a progressive disease that worsens over several years, starting with mild memory loss. People with late stage Alzheimer’s may lose the ability to carry on a conversation, respond to their environment, and control their movement.
To help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, individuals can get plenty of exercise, eat a nutritious diet, and improve their heart health. They can also engage in brain-stimulating activities, maintain strong social relationships, and get sufficient quality sleep.
- Deaths in 2020: 102,188
- Percentage of total deaths: 3%
Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the body cannot produce or effectively use insulin, a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels.
People with type 1 diabetes require daily insulin injections because they do not make insulin. Currently, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Individuals with type 2 diabetes cannot use insulin effectively and often require medications to manage blood glucose levels. Prevention and treatment involve eating a suitable diet and getting more exercise.
9. Influenza and pneumonia
- Deaths in 2020: 53,544
- Percentage of total deaths: 1.6%
Influenza is a viral respiratory infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It is a common cause of viral pneumonia, which can also be bacterial or fungal. Pneumonia causes lung inflammation, which leads to breathing difficulties.
To help prevent influenza and pneumonia, people can quit smoking, reduce their alcohol intake, and avoid exposure to chemicals, pollutants, or toxic fumes.
10. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis (kidney disease)
- Deaths in 2020: 52,547
- Percentage of total deaths: 1.6%
Chronic kidney disease includes conditions such as nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis. These conditions harm the kidneys, which results in reduced function and waste buildup. It can cause complications such as high blood pressure, anemia, and reduced bone strength, while further issues with nutritional health and nerve damage are also possible.
Preventing these conditions includes maintaining a moderate weight and blood pressure, exercising, and eating a low sodium diet. People should also avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), these were the
|Cause of death||Deaths in 2019|
|Ischemic heart disease||8.9 million|
|Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease||3.2 million|
|Lower respiratory infections||2.6 million|
|Neonatal conditions||2 million|
|Tracheas, bronchus, and lung cancers||1.8 million|
|Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias||1.6 million|
|Diarrheal diseases||1.5 million|
|Diabetes mellitus||1.5 million|
|Kidney diseases||1.3 million|
However, these data do not include COVID-19, as the death statistics available at the end of 2020 actually relate to 2019. However, the WHO then estimated COVID to have caused more than 1.5 million deaths worldwide in 2020. This would have tied it with diarrheal diseases and diabetes mellitus, which were seventh on the list of top causes of worldwide deaths, assuming those figures stay more or less the same in the next report.
The 10 leading causes of death in the U.S accounted for nearly 75% of the total deaths. People can learn more about the most common causes of death and take steps to help prevent their onset.
Some common preventive measures include exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and getting plenty of quality sleep, as many of the top causes of death relate to heart health.
Individuals should also reduce their exposure to environmental toxins and avoid potentially health-damaging substances such as alcohol and tobacco products.