What are the Most Common Causes of Death in the U.S.?

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by visualcapitalist

Each year, about 2.7 million Americans pass away for various reasons ranging from unintentional injuries to more chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes.

While death is not always an easy topic to discuss, it’s also something that is important to put into perspective. Better understanding the data around death can help us on a personal level, while also revealing where more resources may be needed at a more societal level.


Today’s visualization comes from Reddit user TVUmK, and it compiles data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, to plot the most common causes of death between 1999 and 2016.

Animation: What are the Most Common Causes of Death in the U.S.?

Over the time period shown, heart disease was the most significant cause of death with a toll of 1,270,000 lives in 2016.

Meanwhile, cancer consistently ranks as the second most common cause of death in the United States, with other causes such as chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD), stroke, and unintentional injuries often ranking as the #3 to #5 causes.

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Here is how the top 10 causes of death have changed between 1999-2016:

Cause 1999 Deaths 2016 Deaths Change over time
Alzheimer’s Disease 89,000 232,000 +160.7%
Cancer 1,100,000 1,196,000 +8.7%
Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD) 248,000 309,000 +24.6%
Diabetes 137,000 160,000 +16.8%
Heart Disease 1,450,000 1,270,000 -12.4%
Influenza/ Pneumonia 127,000 103,000 -18.9%
Kidney Disease 71,000 100,000 +40.8%
Stroke 335,000 284,000 -15.2%
Suicide 58,000 90,000 +55.2%
Unintentional Injuries 196,000 323,000 +64.8%

Note: Values rounded up to the nearest thousand, and are in absolute terms (i.e. not adjusted to be per capita)

As an interesting sidenote, the perceptions that the general public and media headlines have about death can be quite separated from reality.

For example, one set of data shows that The Guardian and the New York Times run headlines on cancer roughly six times more often than headlines on heart disease, despite heart disease actually being a more common cause of death.

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To further understand healthcare trends, it’s also worth looking at where Americans are spending their final days. Data here again comes from the CDC, and it’s been charted out by Reddit user academiaadvice:

Where Americans Die

The two most obvious trends here are the increase in deaths at home along with a rise in hospice care. Simultaneously, deaths in a hospitals – especially in emergency settings – are on the decline.

While we don’t always get to choose where we die, these trends partially reflect the fact that more Americans would rather spend their final days in a more familiar setting.



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