People in the U.S. can, on average, expect to live about 78.6 years. That was the result of research conducted on deaths that occurred in 2017 -- the most recent year for which the U.S. has complete data. That year, more than 2.8 million people died. Most of them -- nearly 3 out of every 4 -- died of 1 of 10 different causes. 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: 23%
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.
CAD kills more than 370,000 people every year. Most people don’t know they have it until they have a heart attack.
Tips for preventing heart disease and heart attack
Percent of total deaths: 21.3%
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
Percent of total deaths: 6%
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 portion.
#4 Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
Percent of total deaths: 5.7%
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.
Percent of total deaths: 5.2%
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
- Most strokes happen to people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or diabetes as well as those who smoke. Quit smoking, make lifestyle changes, and take prescribed medications to control these conditions.
- Learn the signs of a stroke, including sudden numbness, confusion, trouble seeing or walking, and a sudden severe headache.
- Stroke treatment works best when given within three hours of the first symptoms. If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, call 9-1-1.
#6 Alzheimer’s Disease
Percent of total deaths: 4.3%
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.
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
- You can prevent or manage diabetes by eating healthy foods and exercising.
- If you have diabetes, insulin, oral medication, or both can help keep your blood sugar under control.
- People with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. So, it’s important if you have diabetes to reduce those risks by controlling cholesterol and blood pressure and not smoking.
#8 Influenza and Pneumonia
Percent of total deaths: 2%
Tips for preventing influenza, pneumonia, and their complications
#9 Kidney Disease
Percent of total deaths: 1.8%
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
Percent of total deaths: 1.7%
In 2016, more than 270,000 people went to the emergency room for self-inflicted injuries. Most people who commit suicide do it using firearms, suffocation, or poisoning. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities may be at risk.
Tips to lower the risk of suicide
- If you think someone you know is at risk of suicide, don’t be afraid to ask. Listen and connect him or her to others who can help.
- If you ever have thoughts of suicide, don’t be afraid to ask for help to deal with your problems. And remember that you’re not alone. Your thoughts and emotions aren’t permanent either. Tomorrow or next week you may feel differently than you do today.
- When having thoughts of suicide, avoid drugs and alcohol. Keep firearms, knives, pills, or other items that you might use to harm yourself out of the house.
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.”
Hg.org: “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?”