Top 20 Causes of Death in America

6 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

Understanding good health means learning from those around you who perished, perhaps due to lifestyle choices. Start a search today to learn the leading causes of death in America, and reflect on what changes you can make for your health.

At the age of maturity, everyone must take responsibility for their health. Whether that means taking daily multivitamins, or just preparing thoroughly for your annual checkup, it’s important to feel like you’re in control of your health.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is defined as any kind of disease that affects your heart. It’s not to be confused with cardiovascular disease, which is any disease that narrows or blocks the blood vessels leading to the heart.

Even though heart disease is the leading cause of death in America today, most cases are easy to prevent with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. Excessive use of caffeine, drugs, and alcohol often cause arrhythmias, which aren’t usually fatal, but can develop into a real problem over time.


A large number of different diseases fall under the umbrella of ‘cancer’. In a very general sense, cancer is any disease where abnormal cells divide uncontrollably, causing damage to normal bodily processes.

Luckily, many different types of cancer are able to be controlled and even eradicated with radiation and different experimental treatments. There are a wide variety of symptoms that herald cancer, so make sure to research them all.

Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases

The two major chronic lower respiratory diseases are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Although these diseases are quite different from each other, the symptoms are similar: the sufferer will have trouble breathing, and eventually the lungs will be so damaged that they will cease to function. The major cause of both emphysema and chronic bronchitis is smoking.

Cerebrovascular diseases

Cerebrovascular diseases are a group of diseases that affect the flow of blood to the brain. A loss or sudden flood of blood to the brain will trigger a cerebrovascular attack, which can manifest itself in paralysis, loss of motor control, vomiting, fever, and seizures. These symptoms can come on suddenly, or slowly over a period of a few days.


Bad things sometimes happen to good people, and it seems crazy, but accidents are actually the 5th leading cause of death in America today. Many of these are caused by lack of knowledge, such as unintentional poisoning, but many are caused by sheer recklessness and refusal to seek medical treatment.


A stroke is when bloodflow to the brain is suddenly cut off, leading to the death of cells and valuable brain tissue. During and after a stroke, physical abilities controlled by the effected areas of the brain are cut off, which could lead to paralysis, loss of speech, loss of memory, and reduced muscle control. One stroke happens every 40 seconds in the USA.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Although Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects people 65 years of age and older, it isn’t just a disease that grandparents get. 5% of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s started seeing symptoms when they were as young as 40 years old. Eventually, the disease that robs victims of their memory will also take away their ability to speak and swallow, leading to death.


Diabetes is a metabolic disease that that causes very high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time. There are a few different types of diabetes, and Type 2 diabetes is caused by obesity and lack of exercise. Although Type 1 diabetes is thought to be genetic, Type 2 diabetes is definitely preventable. Over time, diabetes can cause life-threatening complications like kidney failure, and ulcers.


Although the flu, which many people get yearly in winter, doesn’t seem like a big deal, to someone with a compromised immune system or delicate health it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The influenza virus is spread through the air, which is why when someone comes to work sick, you know it’s only a matter of time before the whole office catches it.


There are two types of pneumonia: community-associated pneumonia, which is contracted through the air in your daily life, and healthcare-associated pneumonia, which is often much more difficult to treat, because typically the sufferer is already in the healthcare system for another issue, which pneumonia will complicate. Weakness, coughing, and chills are all common symptoms of both types of pneumonia.

Nephritis, Nephrotic Syndrome, and Nephrosis

All of these illnesses that being with the prefix neph- are related to your kidneys, and are some of the top causes of death in America today. Since the kidneys filter the blood and remove any waste, it’s important to keep them in good working order. Nephritis occurs when the kidneys become inflamed, and if left untreated can lead to complete kidney failure.


A tragic reality today is that many people die by suicide. Suicides can occur as a result of mental illness, desperate life circumstances, or both. Society is continually seeking a way to prevent suicides from happening, but the wide variety of factors that can increase a person’s risk of suicide make it a challenging issue to tackle.


Septicemia is a blood infection, which can progress quickly into complete sepsis if left untreated. It occurs when some kind of infection enters the body (like through the lungs) and spreads to the blood. Any kind of infection that enters the blood is very rapidly spread throughout the entire body, and so curtailing septicemia before it progresses is absolutely essential.

Chronic Liver Diseases

There are a few different types of liver disease, which are primarily caused by either autoimmune or viral infections. Symptoms range from drowsiness to jaundice, and can manifest for years before being considered chronic. Treatment ranges from lifestyle changes to a complete organ transplant.


Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition where scar tissue on the liver gradually replaces all the healthy tissue, causing a loss of functionality. Since the liver of someone with cirrhosis doesn’t function as it would normally, the victim misses out on critical proteins and nutrients that would usually be produced in the liver, causing irreparable damage. Cirrhosis is usually caused by prolonged excessive drinking.

Hypertension and Hypertensive Renal Diseases

Hypertension, although it seems like a scary word, is just high blood pressure. Many people suffer from high blood pressure, but it’s when the levels jump to intolerable degrees for long periods of time that people need to worry. High blood pressure can be alleviated through a healthy diet and exercise.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s often starts out small, with a minute tremor in the hand or foot. The true tragedy of Parkinson’s disease is that it progresses while the victim is still sensible to their own condition, so they are aware of every time that they’re unable to control their own body. Although some treatments have been shown to be effective, nothing can stop the progression of Parkinson’s once it develops.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is when foreign bacteria (like vomit, or food) enters the lungs through aspiration, and causes an infection over time that can lead to the development of pneumonia. Often people will aspirate foreign bacteria because they’re unable to control their chewing or digestion, like if they’re extremely drunk, or suffering from a disease like MS or Parkinson’s.


In some quieter places in the States it’s hard to believe, but assault is a major countrywide cause of death. Assault is defined as any kind of harmful contact with a person, or even the threat to do so. Although the threat of violence won’t kill you, many people who are physically or sexually assaulted in America every day die from their injuries. We usually hear about the ones that die right away, but often the stats don’t take into account victims who succumb to their injuries days, weeks, or months after the event.


Atherosclerosis is a type of disease which is characterized by fatty buildup of plaque in the arteries, which will eventually cause a stroke or heart attack if left untreated. It can affect the arteries leading to any part of the body, which makes it particularly hard to diagnose, because it isn’t centered around one particular area.

Jordana Weiss