Top 5 Causes of Death Worldwide

Death statistics around the world have been staggering over the years. It seems the mortality statistic for many conditions increases with each year. However, there are specific conditions that account for higher mortality rates than others around the world.

The more aware you are of what the top causes of death are, the greater your chances could be of avoiding them. So let’s take a few moments to explore what the most popular causes of death are worldwide.

1. Heart Disease

According to, heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide and is the number one cause of death in the United States. In 2008, heart disease accounted for 30% of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Heart disease accounts for a wide number of ailments that victims succumb to, including coronary heart disease (narrowing of the blood vessels that lead to the heart), which caused 71%t of U.S. heart disease fatalities in 2002.

One reason that heart disease remains a top cause of death is the inordinate amount of salt most people take in each day. Unfortunately, if heart disease is not appropriately managed, it could lead to other issues, including diabetes and stroke, which are both among the top causes of death worldwide.

2. Stroke

According to data released in 2006 by, there is reason to believe that stroke (a manifestation of vascular disease in the brain) might become the leading cause of death by the year 2030, and possibly the second leading cause in just a few years (after heart disease).

According to members of the World Stroke Congress (organized by the World Stroke Organization), there are two reasons that stroke deaths are increasing:

  • The aging population: According to the World Stroke Congress, the first reason for the projected increase in the stroke mortality rate is a larger aging population (i.e. Baby Boomers).
  • Bad lifestyle choices: The second reason was the unhealthier lifestyle choices of people worldwide, including bad diets and less exercise.

The good news is the causes or risk factors associated with stroke can be managed quite well. Some of the risk factors include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, heart disease and diabetes. By treating these conditions appropriately, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) predicts that people could prevent 80% of all strokes.

3. Cancer

Whether you’re looking at breast cancer, lung cancer or cervical cancer, most variations of this condition are among the leading causes of death worldwide. In a 2003 report, WHO noted that yearly global cancer rates could increase to 15 million by the year 2020. In 2007 alone, the American Cancer Society reported that the cancer death rate had reached 7.6 million for the year worldwide. Even worse, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) predicted in 2008 that by 2010, cancer would become the leading cause of death worldwide.

While there is no surefire way to prevent any type of cancer, there are ways to reduce the risk. For instance, getting mammograms every one to three years could reduce the spread of breast cancer. Avoiding firsthand and secondhand smoke could help reduce the risk of lung cancer. And since cervical cancer is largely caused by HPV (Human Papillomarvirus), you may be able to catch it early through annual Pap smear tests or possibly avoid it with the HPV vaccine.


According to the UNAIDS 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update, there were 31.3 million adults and 2.1 million children living with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) at the end of 2008. During the same year, an estimated 2 million people worldwide died from AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The ways to contract both viruses include sexual interaction (between and among sexes), sharing needles, unsafe practices in health care settings and mothers passing it on to babies.

Sub-Saharan Africa (an area of Africa south of the Sahara desert) is the area worst affected by the AIDS epidemic in the world. According to the UNAIDS update, the region has just over 10% of the world’s population, yet carries 67% of all people living with HIV worldwide.

5. Instances of Infant Mortality

As heartbreaking as it is, the infant mortality rate is higher than anyone would want. An estimate from a 2006 “Save the Children” report showed that two million babies die within their first 24 hours each year worldwide. Some of the leading causes of infant death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are congenital malformations, disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), complications of pregnancy and unintentional injuries.

While the number of infant deaths have been decreasing worldwide, they still are too high for comfort, especially in the United States where the infant death ranking was the 29th highest in the world in 2008, despite having access to the some of the best neonatal technology in the world.

Is Lowering the Worldwide Mortality Rate a Possibility?

There are other conditions that contribute to high mortality rates around the world. Some include Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lower respiratory infections, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Of all of the conditions, one in particular, HIV/AIDS, could significantly lower the overall death rate if the proper precautions are taken to avoid transmission (engaging in safe sex and not sharing needles).

While it’s hard to know how to completely avoid all conditions, with proper preventative measures (good diets and exercise), the right education and quality health insurance coverage for regular checkups, one day we may be able to lower the death rate worldwide as quickly as it seems to have increased.