Partner Series
What Are The Leading Causes of Death?
Credit: Sanjab | Dreamstime

While the leading causes of death depend on the age, gender, race and place of residence of a person, the number one killer of people in the world is coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease occurs when not enough blood reaches the heart, potentially causing a heart attack. People most at risk from this disease are those who smoke and have diabetes, hypertension, abnormal cholesterol and those with genetic risk factors. The chances of getting heart disease also grow the older a person gets.

Every year in the United States, around 2 million people die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On average, 600,000 of these deaths result from heart disease, and close behind at 500,000 are malignant cancers, particularly lung cancers.

Gender and race

While the top two killers are the same for American men and women, the third top cause of death differs for the genders: American men of all ages and races are likely to die of unintentional injuriesmost of which result from hospital errors, car accidents , firearms and poisons (such as drug overdoses). The fourth through seventh most common causes of death for American men are chronic lower respiratory diseases (such as chronic bronchitis or asthma), stroke, diabetes and suicide, respectively.

The third leading cause of death for American women of all ages and races is stroke, followed by chronic respiratory disease, Alzheimer's disease and unintentional injuries, respectively.

At age 40, men have a higher risk of getting heart disease than women, according to the National Institute of Health, though heart disease remains the top killer of women over the age of 25. The chances of getting heart disease are the same for men and women at older ages.

The top causes of death don't vary for either black or Hispanic groups in the U.S. they are most likely to die from heart disease, followed by cancer. Men of both of these races are also likely to die of accidents, stroke, diabetes and homicide, while women of either race are likely to die from accidents, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease (black women) or respiratory disease (Hispanic women).

Both Asian men and women are most likely to die from cancer, followed by heart disease and stroke, respectively. Stroke, diabetes, accidents and respiratory diseases are also top killers for Asian men and women.

The young and the old

Causes of death also vary by age: in the U.S., unintentional injuries such as car accidents, poisoning from household chemicals or drug overdoses, fires and drowning are the leading cause of death for children and teenagers.

The second most likely cause of death for young Americans differ significantly: it's cancer for children 5 to14 years old (about 500 cases a year), homicide for children between 15 and 24 (roughly 5,000 cases a year) and suicide for young adults, aged 25 to 34 (5,000 cases a year).

In the teen and young adult years, boys are more likely to die than girls, typically from accidents, suicides and homicides, and older teens are more likely to die than younger ones.

Teenage black males are 20 times more likely to die from homicide than white males. Teenage black and Hispanic females are also more likely to die from homicide than American Indian, white and Asian teen girls.

As a person reaches 45, the top risk of death is from cancer, followed by heart disease. At around age 65, the risks swap: a person is most likely to die from heart disease, followed by cancer. Residents of the U.S. tend to live until 78 years old, on average (for men the average age of death is at 75 years, for women, it's 80), according to the CDC.

Worldwide deaths

Causes of death differ from country to country, in part due to the availability of health care , lifestyle and wealth of the country. But worldwide, heart disease is by far the top killer, followed by stroke, respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases (such as cholera, bacillary dysentery and typhoid), HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, cancers (particularly lung), motor vehicle accidents and premature births, respectively. Every year, about 56 million people die every year (out of about 6.4 billion).

Residents of the U.S., European nations and other developed countries are by far more likely to die of heart disease, followed by stroke , cancers (primarily lung, but also colon, rectum, breast and stomach cancers) respiratory infections, dementias (like Alzheimer's) and diabetes. Residents of developing countries are most likely to die from respiratory infections, followed by heart disease, diarrhoeal diseases, HIV/AIDS, stroke, TB, neonatal infections, malaria and premature births.

Worldwide, the continent of Africa has the most deaths of both adults and children, mainly because of malnutrition and infectious diseases.

Got a question? Email it to Life's Little Mysteries and we'll try to answer it. Due to the volume of questions, we unfortunately can't reply individually, but we will publish answers to the most intriguing questions, so check back soon.