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Top Ten Causes of Death in America

Updated on June 11, 2013

Don't Let it Be Your Funeral

Don't Let it Be Your Funeral
Don't Let it Be Your Funeral

Longevity Over Indulgence

I Googled this topic out of curiosity and before long had a research word doc of over 60 pages. I have tried to be as brief as possible by focusing on useful information that helps alert people to the nature of the disease, the symptoms and means of prevention. We all have to die of something sooner or later, but after looking into the 10 most likely causes of death it became obvious that we can make the 'later' option far more likely with a little respect for our bodies in terms of consumption and lifestyle generally. Clearly our bodies are rebelling against what has become a standard for many - too much sugar, too many harmful fats, not enough exercise, too many toxins and too much stress on mind and body.

No.1 Heart Disease : 26% of all deaths in USA, 631,636

“It may be America's number one killer, but people aren't scared enough of heart disease”, a leading U.S. research cardiologist warns.

Dr. Robert Califf, vice chancellor for clinical research at Duke University Medical Center counsels, "We've done a good job of advertising to people that we're doing better with heart disease, so people tend to sort of feel good about it. We have bypass surgery and stents and drugs that work; the rates are declining."

From 1993 to 2003, cardiovascular disease death rates dropped 22.1 percent but according to the American Heart Association more than 910,000 Americans still die of heart disease annually and over 70 million Americans live with some form of heart disease.

"It's sort of accepted as part of the background noise, even though it's far and away the mostly likely reason that you or I will die, and it will get more likely. We're just on the front end of the baby boomer epidemic, where the projections on the amount of cardiovascular disease are climbing steadily over the next 10 years," claims Califf.

President of the American College of Cardiology and chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Dr. Steven Nissen cautions, "We're delaying the disease, but we're not preventing it”.

Americans now understand that prevention is the key- maintain a healthy diet, keep their weight in check, exercise and don't smoke. But instead, obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise. Roughly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And the epidemic is spreading to teenagers and children.

Is America ready for a cultural shift away from fast food and a sedentary lifestyle towards a healthy diet and regular exercise? According to the American Heart Association, heart disease cost $475.3 billion in 2009, including health care services, medications, and lost productivity. 

Thanks to the American Heart Association

Development of Cancer Cells

Development of Cancer Cells
Development of Cancer Cells

No. 2 Cancer : 23% of all deaths in USA, 559,888

The disease many fear most. In 2010 over 1.3 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed and more than a half million people will lose their life to the disease. U.S investment in cancer research is having an impact on the lives of Americans but cancer remains one of the most urgent health concerns for Americans.

Better imaging and other diagnostic tools, along with more effective treatments have seen a gradual decline in cancer related mortality rates, especially colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer. People are better informed about how to minimize the risk of cancer and the need for early testing. Treatment has improved also – of the nearly 10 million people living with a cancer history, 1.5 million were diagnosed more than 20 years ago. People who develop cancer are living longer and with a better quality of life than ever before.

More than two-thirds of people diagnosed with cancer can now expect to live for 5 years or longer.

Cancer is a varied and complex disease and despite intensive research, medical science has made only minor progress against the most stubborn cancers; pancreatic, lung, and liver cancers. The incidence of certain malignancies including adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, multiple myeloma, and kidney cancer is on the rise for reasons not well understood.

By 2030, the population aged over age 62 will reach about 83 million, roughly double its current size. A dramatic rise in cancer incidence can be expected as America’s population continues to age and life expectancy lengthens or remains constant. It will be vital that effective treatments and symptom control are available to all who need them, rich and poor alike and that reliable interventions that prevent cancers from occurring are developed to their limit.

The cost of cancer treatment can be astronomic. Below is the story of a young American’s battle with cancer and the financial burden to his family. The story is found on the website.

Michael Treinen, Indiana

“Michael, a teenager, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. His treatment required 10 doses of a chemotherapy drug that cost $10,000 per dose and a 56-day stay in an intensive care unit that cost $400,000 dollars. Michael reached his family’s lifetime maximum in less than a year. The hospital informed the family they needed either $600,000 in certified insurance or a $500,000 deposit to move forward with Michael’s bone marrow transplant. Despite eventually receiving financial support from the community, Michael died before he could receive the transplant. Today, his family continues to pay for the cost of Michael’s treatment.”

Thanks to the National Cancer Institute

Stroke Caused by Hemorrhage or Blockage

Stroke Caused by Hemorrhage
Stroke Caused by Hemorrhage
Stroke Caused by Blockage
Stroke Caused by Blockage

No. 3 Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 6% of all deaths in USA, 137,199

A stroke is the rapidly developing loss of brain function caused by a disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. Consequently, the affected part of the brain can’t function, and the stroke victim is unable to move one or more limbs on one side of the body, unable to understand or formulate speech, or unable to see one side of the visual field.

Stroke is the number one cause of adult disability in the U.S and is the number two cause of death worldwide. Risk factors for stroke include old age, high blood pressure, previous stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking and atrial fibrillation.

As much as 80% of all strokes may be prevented through a healthier lifestyle - reducing high saturated fat foods (found on meat and dairy products) and low nutrient sugars and syrups is key. Eliminating foods that have saturated fat, trans fat (hydrogenated oils), simple sugars and syrups or simple carbs (white bread, white rice) will reduce the likelihood of stroke significantly.

Stroke continues to be a major public health concern, with more than 750,000 new strokes occurring each year in the United States.

Thanks to the National Stroke Association

Pollution and Respitory Illness

Pollution and Respitory Ilness
Pollution and Respitory Ilness

No. 4 Chronic lower respiratory disease: 5% of all deaths in USA

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD) is a serious illness affecting millions of Americans. CLRD has been the third leading cause of death in West Virginia since 2000 and is projected to move into third place nationwide by 2020. While mortality rates for heart disease and cancer are falling, deaths from CLRD continue to rise.

CLRD includes three major diseases: chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. All are characterized by shortness of breath caused by airway obstruction. In chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the obstruction is irreversible.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), more than 16 million people in the U.S have been diagnosed with COPD, and it is estimated that another 16 million cases are undiagnosed. All together, approximately $42.7 billion dollars are spent annually on chronic lower respiratory diseases in the United States.

Cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for chronic bronchitis and emphysema, accounting for about 80% of all cases. The American Lung Association states that cigarette smokers are 10 times more likely to die of COPD than nonsmokers. Other contributing factors include environmental exposures to occupational dusts and chemicals and indoor/outdoor air pollution, which contribute to approximately 15% of COPD cases, with 5% due to genetic influences.

Thanks to NIEHS

MVA Involving Drunk Driver

MVA Involving Drunk Driver
MVA Involving Drunk Driver

No.5 Accidents (unintentional injuries) 5% of all deaths in USA, 121,599

1. Motor vehicle (MVA) 37.5% - majority of fatal MVA’s involved alcohol

2. Poisoning 19.5%

3. Falls 16.3%

4. Drowning 3%

5. Fires, burns & smoke 2.6%

6. Medical/surgical complications 2.2%

7. Forces of Nature 1.8%

8. Firearms discharge 0.7%

9. Other transport 2.6%

10. Other non-transport 13.9%

Thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau

Symptoms of Diabetes

Dr. Oz & Oprah Fight Diabetes
Dr. Oz & Oprah Fight Diabetes
The Warning Signs of Diabetes
The Warning Signs of Diabetes

No. 6 Diabetes 3% of all deaths in USA, 72,449

Dr. Oz calls diabetes America’s silent killer. It’s the fastest-growing disease in history. It's estimated that 80 million people in the United States have diabetes or are on the verge of developing the disease. Diabetes is especially widespread in the African-American community, where it claims nearly 100 lives every single day. "It's time to get out of denial," Oprah says.

The cost to the U.S is $174 billion a year to treat diabetes—more than AIDS and all cancers combined. "If we don't fix the problem of diabetes in this country, we will bankrupt our future ability to pay for healthcare in the nation," Dr. Oz says.

Heart surgeon, Dr. Oz, says 25% of the patients he operates on have diabetes. "Most diabetes is preventable," he says. "It is treatable, even reversible."

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, affects 10 % of Americans diagnosed with diabetes and is mostly a genetic predisposition where the pancreas doesn’t effectively produce enough insulin and is unpreventable.

Type 2 develops from an unhealthy lifestyle. An excess of body fat (particularly belly fat) reduces the effectiveness of insulin to work to control blood sugar levels. "Ninety percent of type 2 diabetics can actually reverse their problem," says Dr. Oz.

Type 2 diabetes is the fastest-growing disease in history because of sugar. Dr. Oz claims the average person eats 150 lbsof sugar a year. "That's 40 pounds of extra sugar that we're eating every single year as opposed to just a generation ago," he says. "It is impossible for our body to keep up with that. There is no way we can adapt this quickly." Heat attack and kidney failure kill most diabetics.

In the United States, approximately 86,000 diabetes-related amputations are performed every year as a result of damaged blood vessels caused by diabetes.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes:

  • Constant thirst and frequent urination
  • Non-healing infections
  • Tingling toes:
  • Blurred vision

Major risk factors for type 2 diabetes:

  • Excess Belly fat
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history
  • Smoking

Dr. Oz and Dr. Smith urge anyone who thinks they may be at risk for diabetes: “Don't wait to get tested. Almost always you can reverse it," Dr. Oz says. "What you can't always reverse are the side effects of what that glass shrapnel has already done inside of you."

Thanks to the American Diabetes Association

The effect of Alzheimer's Disease on the Brain

The medical illustration is provided courtesy of Alzheimer's Disease Research, a program of BrightFocus Foundation.
The medical illustration is provided courtesy of Alzheimer's Disease Research, a program of BrightFocus Foundation. | Source

No. 7 Alzheimer's disease 3% of all deaths in USA, 72,432

It’s estimated that 5.3 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease (2010). Of this number, 5.1 million people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s and 200,000 individuals under age 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are half a million Americans under 65 with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Women are more likely to have Alzheimer's disease than men (and live longer than men in general).

According to the latest (2010) projections released by the national Alzheimer's Association:

♦ Alzheimer's is the most frequent cause of dementia, accounting for 70 percent of all cases of dementia in Americans aged 71 and older.

♦ By 2030, all baby boomers will be at least 65 years old. That year, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer's is expected to reach 7.7 million, more than a 50 percent increase from the 5.1 million age 65 order older currently (2009) affected.

♦ By 2050, that number is expected to reach between 11 and 16 million unless medical breakthroughs identify ways to prevent or more effectively treat the disease. Barring such developments, by 2050 more than 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease will be aged 85 or older.

As the number of people with these conditions grows in the future, payments for their care will increase dramatically. Direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2010 will amount to more than $172 billion.

Q: What can I do to reduce my risk of Alzheimer's?

A: (Dr. Oz) The same healthy habits that boost your overall brain function can also help ward off Alzheimer's disease. That means engaging in regular physical and mental exercise, and making sure your diet includes lots of leafy greens and foods rich in omega-3s (like nuts and fish). I'd also suggest eating more curry, because it contains the spice turmeric. Research shows that turmeric may help prevent the accumulation of plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and that can interfere with communication between neurons.

Thanks to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Swine Flu

Swine Flu
Swine Flu

No 8. Influenza & Pneumonia 2% of all deaths in USA,56,326

Influenza and pneumonia are an all too common cause of death in the U.S. given that these diseases can easily be prevented by a vaccination. Yet they continue to cause disease and death for thousands of Americans each year. As highlighted by the emergence of H1N1 and the severity of the last flu season, continued awareness and resources are necessary to diminish the suffering caused by these diseases.


Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection that causes severe illnesses every winter season-   15 to 61 million Americans contract influenza each year. The flu is often confused with the common cold, but in truth, the flu is much more serious. In the U.S., the flu is responsible for 226,000 hospitalizations and an average of 36,000 deaths annually.

Novel H1N1

A relatively new influenza subtype is novel H1N1, or “swine flu,” first identified in April 2009. Similarities between this influenza A virus and influenza viruses previously identified in swine were initially identified, although it is actually a mix of four different strains, including swine, avian, and human influenza. Novel H1N1 has been widespread during the 2009–2010 flu season and continues to infect people.  

During the 2007–2008 influenza season, deaths linked to influenza and pneumonia peaked at 9.1% of all deaths per week. The percentage of deaths associated with influenza and pneumonia were above the epidemic threshold for 13 successive weeks beginning in January 2008.

In 2005 influenza and pneumonia represented a cost of $40.2 billion to the U.S. economy- $6.0 billion in indirect costs and $34.2 billion in direct costs.

The Functioning of Kidneys

The Functioning of Kidneys
The Functioning of Kidneys

No. 9 Kidney disease (nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, nephrosis) - 2% of all deaths in USA

The two kidneys at each side of the lower spine control the body's fluid balance, filter the blood of waste and produce a multitude of regulating hormones. They are at the center of the urinary system, and also help make red blood cells and vitamin D. When they fail, the breakdown can have body-wide ramifications.

 There are a number of diseases can cause progressive kidney disease, principally diabetes and high blood pressure. High blood pressure attacks arteries everywhere, including in the kidneys, where it irreversibly damages small blood vessels and filtering structures. Damage can occur without notice, sometimes taking decades before symptoms manifest obviously.

Kidney damage can be especially problematic because paradoxically, among the many jobs the kidneys perform, is blood pressure control. If blood pressure sensors in the kidney malfunction, a vicious cycle of uncontrolled pressure proceeds. Kidneys can slowly collapse, progressing eventually from mild chronic kidney disease to kidney failure or end-stage renal disease (ESRD), where they fail to perform at all. Eventually people with chronic kidney disease require waste to be manually removed from their blood using dialysis or have a kidney transplant to keep them alive. 

People with higher than normal blood pressure are at risk of developing kidney failure, especially African Americans, who are more susceptible to kidney disease. To protect the kidneys, a healthy diet, watchful observation of blood pressure, and attentiveness to prescribed blood pressure treatments is crucial.  

A Healthy Lifestyle - The Key to A Long Life

Healthy Lifestyle
Healthy Lifestyle

No. 10 “Blood poisoning" - Septicemia - 1% of all deaths in USA, 34,851

Over 34,000 Americans die from septicemia every year. Septicemia is a toxic bloodstream infection that is often contracted in hospitals, yet many hospitals keep this common occurrence a secret. Often when patients develop septicemia, other health problems result which hospitals list as the cause of death. Inaccurate death certificates help hospitals maintain infection rate figures at acceptable levels.

Septicemia is a condition caused by a serious infection that gets into the bloodstream from bacterial contamination. Symptoms include falling blood pressure, chills, high fever, racing heart beat, bewilderment, weakness, deathly pallor, sweating, and falling oxygen levels.

According to a 2003 New England Journal of Medicine study, sepsis kills 20-50 % of severely affected patients. Since 1998, septicemia has overtaken suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in America. And the numbers are getting worse- in 2007 (the latest available data) septicemia killed 34,851 people.

In researching this article I became a little morbid, even paranoid at times – it’s not the cheeriest subject after all. The truth is though that the degree of exposure to these top 10 killers can be seriously mitigated by some simple lifestyle choices – don’t smoke, eat healthy food, exercise regularly, don’t drink and drive….is it really that hard? After looking at pictures of diseased hearts, kidneys, brains, and limbs I’m motivated to make more of an effort!


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Yes, it's amazing how many more cases of dibteaes there are in the U.S. The disease runs deep on my father's side so it's an issue close to my heart. I have actually seen 2 children at my school who have developed dibteaes while in elementary school just in the past 5 years, actually.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Peecrft shot! Thanks for your post!

    • C.V.Rajan profile image


      4 years ago from Kerala, India

      Very useful reference!


    • profile image 

      6 years ago


      Healthline recently finished an infographic that shows the increasing impact type 2 diabetes has on everything from pregnancy to national health expenditures. You can find the infographic at:

      We encourage you to embed this graphic on your site & share with your followers, friends, & network.

      Please let me know if you have any questions.

      Warm Regards,


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello, Thank You for your source. It will be of great assistance to my Science Fair Project.


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