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What are the leading causes of death in the US?

Heart disease and cancer are still the reigning causes of death across the country.


Fact checked

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) records the number of deaths across the US — and the major diseases that Americans are dying from. We combed through this data to find the leading causes of death, as well as which conditions were different among men and women.

No one can predict the future, so consider putting an adequate life insurance policy in place in case you’re diagnosed with an unexpected illness.

Is coronavirus a leading cause of death in 2020?

It’s too soon to tell. Health organizations haven’t yet released 2020 data around the usual leading causes of death — like heart disease. But the Center for Disease Control & Prevention has confirmed the coronavirus isn’t the leading cause of death in the US.

However, COVID-19 is the leading cause of death per day, according to a new report by Dr. Maria Danilychev, a San Diego-based physician. Relying on CDC data, her research found the disease causes 1,970 deaths nationwide per day — more than heart disease and cancer.

Around 80% of coronavirus cases don’t become serious, according to Johns Hopkins. For context, the pandemic has a case fatality rate — or the number of reported deaths divided by reported cases — of around 6.8% globally, according to the latest report on April 19, 2020, from the World Health Organization. That fatality rate goes up to as high as 13% for seniors over the age of 65 and people with pre-existing health risks related to respiratory issues.

To learn more about COVID-19 cases across the US, see updated data from the CDC.

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The 10 leading causes of death in America

To crunch these numbers, we looked at the CDC’s latest mortality data released in 2020 and learned the top 10 leading causes of death didn’t change between 2017 and 2018. This means Americans are falling victim to the same diseases and health conditions year-after-year, and getting involved in a similar amount of accidents.

For both men and women, the leading causes of death were heart disease and cancer.

However, men had a higher incidence of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and suicide, while more women died from septicemia. These differences aside, the list of common deaths was made up of the usual suspects, including stroke, diabetes and pneumonia.

These were the 10 leading causes of death in the US — and they accounted for 73.8% of all deaths across the country.

Rank Cause of death Total number of deaths
1 Heart disease 647,457
2 Cancer 599,108
3 Accidents and unintentional injuries 169,936
4 Lung disease 160,201
5 Stroke 146,383
6 Alzheimer’s disease 121,404
7 Diabetes 83,564
8 Flu and pneumonia 55,672
9 Kidney disease 50,633
10 Suicide and intentional self-harm 47,173

What are chronic lower respiratory diseases (CLRDs)?

CLRDs are conditions that affect the lungs, such as:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — including emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Occupational lung diseases

While these diseases are typically associated with smoking, non-smokers can also contract them.

The top 10 causes of death for men

These were the leading causes of death among American men. As you’ll see, it’s fairly similar to the shared list — though more men died from liver disease than kidney disease.

Rank Cause of death Number of deaths
1 Heart disease 347,879
2 Cancer 315,147
3 Accidents and unintentional injuries 109,722
4 Chronic lower respiratory diseases 75,005
5 Stroke 61,645
6 Diabetes 46,302
7 Alzheimer’s disease 37,325
8 Suicide and intentional self-harm 36,782
9 Flu and pneumonia 26,558
10 Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 26,451

The top 10 causes of death for women

As for American women, the incidence of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease was higher than that of men in 2018, and septicemia (aka blood poisoning) also made the list.

Rank Cause of death Number of deaths in 2018
1 Heart disease 299,578
2 Cancer 283,961
3 Chronic lower respiratory diseases 85,196
4 Stroke 84,738
5 Alzheimer’s disease 84,079
6 Accidents and unintentional injuries 60,214
7 Diabetes 37,262
8 Flu and pneumonia 29,114
9 Kidney disease 24,889
10 Septicemia 21,319

What’s the average life expectancy in America?

In good news, the average life expectancy for both men and women increased to 78.7 in 2018 — largely because the number of deaths from heart disease, cancer and accidents decreased that year.

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How we collected this data

To learn about the leading causes of death among Americans, we turned to the CDC’s mortality data.

The CDC analyzes deaths and diseases each year, and published its most recent report in January 2020. The report focused on 2018, and we’ll update this page as new data is released.

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Bottom line

You may not know what’s going to happen in the future, but you can prepare for the unexpected by purchasing a life insurance policy. A good policy can protect your family financially if you pass away prematurely, and give you the peace of mind in knowing that your loved ones will be taken care of when you’re gone.

To get the best possible coverage at a premium you can afford, compare life insurance companies.

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