Top 10 Causes of Death in the U.S.


The more you know about the leading causes of death, the more you can do to prevent them.
The more you know about the leading causes of death, the more you can do to prevent them.

People in the U.S. can, on average, expect to live about 77.0 years — a decrease of 1.8 years from 2019.

That was the result of research conducted on deaths that occurred in 2020 — the most recent year for which the U.S. has complete data.

  • More than 3.3 million people died in 2020, which is more than 500,000 more deaths than the previous year.
  • The leading cause of death in 2020 was heart disease, followed by cancer, which are the same top two causes of death as the previous year.
  • COVID-19 was added to the list as an official cause of death in 2020 and became the third leading cause of death.
  • Age-adjusted death rates increased in 2020 from 2019 for all race-ethnicity-sex groups. The numbers increased as follows: 
    • 42.7% for Hispanic males,
    • 32.4% for Hispanic females,
    • 28.0% for non-Hispanic Black males,
    • 24.9% for non-Hispanic Black females,
    • 13.4% for non-Hispanic White males, and
    • 12.1% for non-Hispanic White females.
  • The more you know about these conditions and their danger, the more you can play a role in preventing them from happening to you or someone you care about.

#1 Heart Disease

Percent of total deaths: 20.6%

Heart disease is a leading cause of death for men and women of most ethnicities. The buildup of plaque in arteries causes the most common form of heart disease, which is coronary artery disease or CAD. The plaque narrows arteries — muscular tubes that carry blood to the heart — making it harder for blood to flow.

About 20.1 million adults age 20 and older have CAD (about 7.2%), which killed 382,820 people in 2020. Most people don’t know they have it until they have a heart attack.

Tips for preventing heart disease and heart attack

#2 Cancer

Percent of total deaths: 17.8%

The number of cancer deaths is falling slightly, but it’s still a leading cause of death. Prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers are the top three cancers in men. For women, it’s breast, lung, and colorectal cancer.

The rates of cancer and cancer deaths vary among racial and ethnic groups. They are generally highest for African Americans and lowest for Asian Americans. People with lower incomes more often die of cancer. That’s in part because they are less likely to catch cancers early and get the best treatment.

Tips for preventing or surviving cancer

  • Eat right and exercise. A recent panel found that exercise helps to prevent cancer. It also may improve survival chances.
  • Don’t smoke and do wear sunscreen.
  • Follow cancer screening guidelines to catch cancers earlier when they are easier to treat.

#3 COVID-19

Percent of total deaths: 10.4%

The highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (COVID-19) causes respiratory symptoms that are similar to a cold, a flu, or pneumonia.

In 2020, COVID-19 became an official cause of death for the first time and there are no statistics from previous years to compare to.

Tips for preventing COVID-19: 

  • Increase your distance while around others in public spaces by at least 6 feet.
  • Wear a mask when around large groups of people to prevent breathing particles into your respiratory tract. 
  • Avoid contact with people you suspect may be infected or who have had recent exposure to an infected person.
  • Spend as much time outdoors as possible, where you have less chance of coming in contact with particles.
  • Ventilate your home by opening windows and use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaner.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect your body from infection.
    • If you are immunocompromised: Consult with your doctor to see if you are eligible to receive a medication called Evusheld, which is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies that may help protect you from being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 for 6 months.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have signs and symptoms of infection such as a sore throat and fever to prevent spreading the virus.

#4 Accidents

Percent of total deaths: 5.9%

Accidental injuries send almost 30 million people to the emergency room each year and millions more to the doctor’s office. The leading causes of accidental death are falls, car accidents, and poisonings.

Tips to help prevent an accidental death

  • To reduce the risk of falling, remove fall hazards in your home, keep your home well lit, and use a cane or walker if needed to keep you steady.
  • Drive safely. Don’t use your cell phone while driving and follow all traffic guidelines.
  • Take medications as prescribed. Store medications safely and get rid of any unused portions.

#5 Stroke

Percent of total deaths: 4.7%

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability. African Americans are about twice as likely to have a stroke as whites; they are also more likely to die. Strokes happen more often in older people, but they can happen at any age.

Tips for preventing or surviving a stroke

#6 Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases

Percent of total deaths: 4.5%

Chronic lower respiratory diseases include bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Asthma is more common in women than men. African Americans more often end up in the hospital with asthma and are more likely to die of it than people of other races or ethnicities.

Tips to prevent lower respiratory diseases

  • Most cases of chronic bronchitis and emphysema occur in smokers. The best way to avoid these conditions is to not smoke or to quit smoking if you do.
  • If you have asthma, follow your doctor’s advice to keep it controlled. Contact your doctor if symptoms get worse.
  • If you have or are at risk for any of these conditions, avoid exposure to vapors, dust, or fumes that may make it worse.

#7 Alzheimer’s Disease

Percent of total deaths: 4%

In most people, symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease start after the age of 60. It’s the sixth leading cause of death, but it’s an even more common cause of death among older people.

Tips for preventing Alzheimer’s disease

  • Research suggests a link between Alzheimer’s and many other common causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. So basic healthy living may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • You may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by sleeping enough, continuing to learn new things, and staying socially connected. However, researchers need to study this more.
  • There are treatments that may help with symptoms, but there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

#8 Diabetes

Percent of total deaths: 3%

One in 4 people over age 65 has diabetes. It’s more likely if you have a family history or are overweight. African American, Hispanic, and Native American people are at greater risk for diabetes than white people.

Tips for preventing and avoiding serious complications of diabetes

#9 Influenza and Pneumonia

Percent of total deaths: 1.6%

Anyone can get the flu. Older adults and people with other health problems are more likely to get pneumonia.

Tips for preventing influenza, pneumonia, and their complications

#10 Kidney Disease

Percent of total deaths: 1.6%

The kidneys of people with chronic kidney disease don’t filter blood the way they should. People with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or a family history of kidney disease are more likely to develop the condition.

Tips to Protect Your Kidneys

  • Keep your blood pressure and blood sugar under control.
  • Develop a healthy routine, including nutritious meals, good sleep, and exercise.
  • Don’t smoke.
Murphy SL, Kochanek KD, Xu JQ, Arias E. Mortality in the United States, 2020. NCHS Data Brief, no 427. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. DOI:

National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality,

CDC. "How to Protect Yourself and Others," Aug. 11, 2022.

CDC. "Basics of COVID-19." Nov. 4, 2021.

CDC. "Heart Disease Facts." July 15, 2022.

(c)2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

CDC: “Mortality in the United States, 2017,” “Deaths and Mortality,” “Heart Disease Facts & Statistics,” “Coronary Artery Disease,” “Accidents or Unintentional Injuries,” “Tips to Prevent Poisonings,” “Stroke Facts,” “Stroke Signs and Symptoms,” “More than 29 million Americans have diabetes; 1 in 4 doesn’t know.”

National Vital Statistics Reports: “Deaths: Final Data for 2017.”

American Cancer Society: “Facts & Figures 2019: US Cancer Death Rate has Dropped 27% in 25 Years,” “Stay Healthy.”

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: “American College of Sports Medicine Roundtable Report on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Cancer Prevention and Control.”

Mayo Clinic: “Fall prevention: Simple tips to prevent falls,” “Asthma,” “Suicide: What to do when someone is suicidal.” “How to avoid a car accident.”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “Asthma Facts and Figures.”

West Virginia Health Statistics Center: “Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease.”

National Institute on Aging: “Alzheimer's Disease Fact Sheet.”

Harvard Health Letter: “What can you do to avoid Alzheimer’s disease?”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “What is diabetes?” “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke,” “Kidney Disease.”

American Lung Association: “Learn about Pneumonia.”

Help Guide: “Are you feeling suicidal?”