Heart disease and cancer are responsible for nearly half of all deaths in the U.S., report says

What are the most common ways to die in America? The answer depends on how old you are, whether you’re a man or a woman, and your racial and ethnic background, a new report shows.

Alzheimer’s disease accounted for 5% of deaths among U.S. women, for instance, but only 2.1% of deaths among men. Accidents and unintentional injuries caused 39.7% of deaths among people between the ages of 10 and 24, but only 7.4% of deaths for adults between the ages of 45 and 64. Diabetes was responsible for 4.3% of African American deaths and 2.7% of white deaths.

Overall, heart disease was the No. 1 cause of death for Americans, killing 614,348 people in 2014, according to a government analysis of all death certificates filed in the country that year. Cancer came in second, causing 591,699 deaths. Together, the two diseases accounted for 45.9% of all deaths in the U.S., the report says.


Heart disease and cancer have long topped the list of leading causes of death, and each killed a few thousand more people in 2014 than in 2013. However, while cancer held steady at 22.5% of all deaths in the U.S., the proportion of deaths due to heart disease fell slightly, from 23.5% in 2013 to 23.4% in 2014.

The next three leading causes of death — chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents and unintentional injuries, and stroke — accounted for 15.8% of U.S. deaths in 2014. Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide rounded out the top 10. Combined, they were responsible for 12% of fatalities that year.

Among the 10 leading causes of death, eight — Alzheimer’s, accidents, suicides, strokes, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes and heart disease — killed more people in 2014 than in 2013. By far, the biggest jump was for Alzheimer’s, which caused 10.5% more deaths in 2014 compared with the previous year.

Meanwhile, deadly cases of flu and pneumonia fell 3.1%, and deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases fell by 1.4%.

Heart disease and cancer ranked No. 1 and No. 2 for both men and women, but both killed a slightly greater proportion of men than women. For women, respiratory diseases ranked third, followed by stroke and Alzheimer’s. For men, accidents were the third-leading cause of death, followed by respiratory diseases and stroke.

Accidents and unintentional injuries were the leading cause of death for children, teens and younger adults. Cancer took over as the leading cause of death among those 45 and older. Cancer deaths were surpassed by deaths due to heart disease at 65.

Breaking down the death certificate statistics according to race revealed that seven of the leading causes of death were shared by whites, blacks, Asians and Native Americans. Cancer was the No. 1 killer of Asian Americans, accounting for 26.8% of deaths in 2014. For the other three groups, the top killer was heart disease, which was responsible for 23.7% of deaths among blacks, 23.4% of deaths among whites and 18.3% of deaths among Native Americans.

Alzheimer’s disease was among the top 10 killers for blacks, whites and Asians, but not for Native Americans. Suicide and influenza and pneumonia were on the list for Asians, whites and Native Americans, but not for blacks. However, African Americans were alone in having homicide and the bloodstream infection septicemia among the leading causes of death.

Latinos had a lower proportion of deaths due to heart disease and cancer than did non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites, according to the report. They also had a greater burden of accident-related deaths, which ranked third, and of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which ranked sixth.

The No. 1 cause of infant deaths was congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities, which accounted for 20.4% of deaths among children under a year old. Close behind were deaths due to premature birth and low birth weight, at 18%. Maternal complications during pregnancy, sudden infant death syndrome and accidents completed the top five causes of infant deaths.

These were the top 10 causes of death for all Americans in 2014, along with their contribution to overall deaths:

  1. Heart disease (23.4%)
  2. Cancer (22.5%)
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (5.6%)
  4. Accidents/unintentional injuries (5.2%)
  5. Stroke/cerebrovascular disease (5.1%)
  6. Alzheimer’s disease (3.6%)
  7. Diabetes (2.9%)
  8. Influenza and pneumonia (2.1%)
  9. Kidney disease (1.8%)
  10. Suicide/intentional self-harm (1.6)

The report was compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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