World Facts

Top Ten Leading Causes Of Death In The World

Per World Health Organization statistics from 2015, the top 10 killers, many of which are lifestyle-related, account for 51.4% of all deaths globally.

As humans, we can do much to extend our lives by practicing healthy lifestyles, making good decisions regarding activities that may result in bodily harm, and making regular appointments to receive medical check-ups for conditions we may be predisposed to. That said, lack of education, medical access, and financial resources alike leave many people in the developing world more prone to certain causes of death, while an obesity epidemic and increasingly sedentary lifestyles prematurely takes more and more lives in the developed world. That said, below we look at the ten leading causes of death worldwide.

10. Road injury (1.34 million deaths, 2.4% of total deaths)

In 2015, there were 1.34 million deaths from road accidents according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Such vehicular accidents are the leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year old youths around the world. Injuries sustained from road accidents are also the ninth leading causes of death across all age groups worldwide. In low income countries, there were 24.1 road and highway deaths for every 100,000 people. For middle income countries, there were 18.4 such deaths for every 100,000 people, and in developing countries there were 9.2 of the same. Africa had the highest accident fatalities of any continent, at 26.6 for every 100,000 people, while the European region, at 9.3, had the lowest rates according to the WHO.

9. Tuberculosis (1.37 million deaths, 2.4% of total deaths)

Tuberculosis is the world's 9th most common cause of death, as it accounts for 1.37 million deaths, or about 2.4% of the world's annual deaths. Tuberculosis is most commonly found in the lungs although it can exist in other parts of the body. Many people who are infected with tuberculosis do not know it as there are often no symptoms. Tuberculosis is hard to contain as it is spread through the air - however, those who are not showing symptoms of the disease cannot spread it.

8. Diarrheal diseases (1.38 million deaths, 2.7% of all deaths)

Diarrhea causes death by depleting fluids from the body, thus resulting in dehydration. According to the CDC, it kills 2,195 children daily, more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. In 2015, diarrhea killed 1.38 million people worldwide, according to WHO, and it counts among the leading causes of death globally, according to the CDC. Poor hygiene and sanitation, and drinking contaminated water, contribute to 88 percent of all diarrhea-related deaths per CDC reports. Diarrhea can also be spread through the use of contaminated utensils, foods, or objects that have been in contact with contaminated stool. Sufficient sanitation, proper human waste disposal, and safe water consumption help to prevent diarrhea. Worldwide, the diarrhea incidence is 2.5 billion yearly, with the bulk of these infections being seen in Africa and South Asia according to UNICEF.

7. Alzheimer disease and other dementia (1.54 million deaths, 2.7% of total deaths)

Alzheimer's disease and other dementia diseases accounted for 1.5 million deaths in 2015. This is 2.7% of all leading causes of death. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. Once Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed, the average lifespan is 3-9 years. The advance of the disease gradually leads to the loss of more and more bodily functions, ultimately resulting in death. The causes of Alzheimer's disease are not well understood.

6. Diabetes mellitus (1.58 million deaths, 2.8% of all deaths)

Diabetes mellitus occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, or the body fails to effectively utilize the insulin it produces. Insulin hormone regulates blood sugar in the body. The best way to ward off diabetes is by maintaining normal weight, and avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and inactivity. In 2015, according to the WHO, the diabetes prevalence worldwide was 9% for adults aged 18 years and older. In 2015, there were 1.58 million deaths from diabetes, and 80 percent of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), in 2010 diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in America. In 2011, there were 4.6 million deaths from diabetes worldwide, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

5. Lung, Tracheal, & Bronchial Cancers (1.6 million deaths, 3.0% of all deaths)

Cancer is caused by uncontrolled growth of cells which invade and spread around the body, often resulting in death. All forms of cancer combined result in 8.2 million deaths, and account for 13 percent of all global deaths that occur, according to the WHO. Lung, trachea, and bronchus cancers alone caused 1.6 million deaths in 2015, a significant increase from 1.2 million such deaths in the year 2000. In the United States, according to the CDC, more people die from lung cancer than any other form of cancer, and smoking is responsible for 85 percent of lung cancer cases in that country. There were 157,423 deaths from lung cancer in 2012 in the US alone according to the CDC. According to the US National Cancer Institute, 60 percent of the world’s new cancer cases happen in Asia, Africa, Central, and South America, and 70 percent of global cancer deaths occur in those same regions as well.

4. COPD (3.17 million deaths, 5.6% of all deaths)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is often concurrent with chronic bronchitis or emphysema, is a chronic lung disease that causes the airways in the lung to inflame and thicken, resulting in shortness of breath. According to the American Lung Association, COPD has no cure, but with treatment it’s preventable and manageable. 11 million people in the US suffer from it, and tobacco inhalation, air pollution at home and in the workplace are some of the leading causes of COPD. According to a 2015 WHO report, COPD was responsible for 3.17 million deaths worldwide, equivalent to 5.6 percent of all deaths. In 2011, COPD was the third leading cause of death in the US according to the CDC.

3. Lower Respiratory Infections (3.19 million deaths, 5.6% of all deaths)

Lower respiratory infections (LRIs), inclusive of pneumonia, tuberculosis, influenza, bronchitis, bronchiolitis and others, accounted for 3.19 million deaths globally, according to a 2015 WHO report. For LRIs, 1 death in every 100 deaths is seen among children below 15 years of age. Pollution of indoor and outdoor air by tobacco smoke, solid fuel use, and poor hygiene may all result in LRIs. Past studies by the WHO reported that 36 percent of LRIs are caused by solid fuel pollution (such as firewood smoke), and 1 percent of respiratory illnesses are caused by outdoor air pollution. In Europe, indoor air pollution from solid fuel use has been cited as accounting for 4.9 percent of all deaths, and 3.1 percent of losses in Disability-Adjusted Life Years for children aged less than 4 years old. LRI diseases like pneumonia resulted in between 1.2 and 1.5 million children under the age of 5 dying, of whom 99 percent are found in developing countries, those statistics according to Health and Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages.

2. Stroke (6.2 million deaths, 11.1% of total deaths)

Stroke is a life threatening medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells lack oxygen, and begin to die, and the control of the parts of the body coordinated by that section of the brain area is then lost. In 2015, according to the World Health Organization, strokes caused 6.2 million deaths globally. In the US alone, the CDC reports that annually the condition affects 795,000 people, and 130,000 of these die. According to the WHF, 6 million people die of stroke annually, and 5 million of those that do survive are left disabled to some degree. The condition is also the second leading cause of death among people over 60 years old, according to the WHO. There are more deaths from stroke annually than those from AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria combined.

1. Ischaemic Heart Disease (8.7 million deaths, 15.5% of total deaths)

Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD), or Coronary heart disease, occurs when the heart’s blood supply is blocked due to the buildup of fatty substances and cholesterol in the coronary arteries, causing their free-flowing passages to narrow. Such blockages inhibit oxygen and nutrient supplies to the heart muscles, hampering the functioning of the heart. Eventually, the part of the heart deprived of oxygen and nutrients dies, resulting in a heart attack. Smoking, the consumption of high cholesterol foods, stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, abdominal obesity, lack of exercise, and excess alcohol can all contribute to the development of Ischemic Heart Disease.

Top Ten Leading Causes Of Death In The World

RankCauseNumber of Deaths
1Ischaemic heart disease8,756,006
2Stroke6,240,611
3Lower respiratory infections3,190,350
4Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease3,170,429
5Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers1,694,623
6Diabetes mellitus1,585,530
7Alzheimer disease and other dementias1,541,880
8Diarrheal diseases1,388,629
9Tuberculosis1,373,159
10Road injury1,342,265

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