The top 10 causes of death
In 2019, the top 10 causes of death accounted for 55% of the 55.4 million deaths worldwide.
top global causes of death, in order of total number of lives lost, are
associated with three broad topics: cardiovascular (ischaemic heart
disease, stroke), respiratory (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
lower respiratory infections) and neonatal conditions – which include
birth asphyxia and birth trauma, neonatal sepsis and infections, and
preterm birth complications.
Causes of death can be
grouped into three categories: communicable (infectious and parasitic
diseases and maternal, perinatal and nutritional conditions),
noncommunicable (chronic) and injuries.
Leading causes of death globally
a global level, 7 of the 10 leading causes of deaths in 2019 were
noncommunicable diseases. These seven causes accounted for 44% of all
deaths or 80% of the top 10. However, all noncommunicable diseases
together accounted for 74% of deaths globally in 2019.
world’s biggest killer is ischaemic heart disease, responsible for 16%
of the world’s total deaths. Since 2000, the largest increase in deaths
has been for this disease, rising by more than 2 million to 8.9 million
deaths in 2019. Stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are the
2nd and 3rd leading causes of death, responsible for approximately 11%
and 6% of total deaths respectively.
infections remained the world’s most deadly communicable disease, ranked
as the 4th leading cause of death. However, the number of deaths has
gone down substantially: in 2019 it claimed 2.6 million lives, 460 000
fewer than in 2000.
Neonatal conditions are ranked 5th.
However, deaths from neonatal conditions are one of the categories for
which the global decrease in deaths in absolute numbers over the past
two decades has been the greatest: these conditions killed 2 million
newborns and young children in 2019, 1.2 million fewer than in 2000.
from noncommunicable diseases are on the rise. Trachea, bronchus and
lung cancers deaths have risen from 1.2 million to 1.8 million and are
now ranked 6th among leading causes of death.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia ranked as the 7th
leading cause of death. Women are disproportionately affected. Globally,
65% of deaths from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are women.
of the largest declines in the number of deaths is from diarrhoeal
diseases, with global deaths falling from 2.6 million in 2000 to 1.5
million in 2019.
Diabetes has entered the top 10 causes
of death, following a significant percentage increase of 70% since
2000. Diabetes is also responsible for the largest rise in male deaths
among the top 10, with an 80% increase since 2000.
diseases which were among the top 10 causes of death in 2000 are no
longer on the list. HIV/AIDS is one of them. Deaths from HIV/AIDS have
fallen by 51% during the last 20 years, moving from the world’s 8th
leading cause of death in 2000 to the 19th in 2019.
diseases have risen from the world’s 13th leading cause of death to the
10th. Mortality has increased from 813 000 in 2000 to 1.3 million in
Leading causes of death by income group
The World Bank classifies the world's economies into four income groups – based on gross national income – low, lower-middle, upper-middle and high.
living in a low-income country are far more likely to die of a
communicable disease than a noncommunicable disease. Despite the global
decline, six of the top 10 causes of death in low-income countries are
Malaria, tuberculosis and
HIV/AIDS all remain in the top 10. However, all three are falling
significantly. The biggest decrease among the top 10 deaths in this
group has been for HIV/AIDS, with 59% fewer deaths in 2019 than in 2000,
or 161 000 and 395 000 respectively.
diseases are more significant as a cause of death in low-income
countries: they rank in the top 5 causes of death for this income
category. Nonetheless, diarrhoeal diseases are decreasing in low-income
countries, representing the second biggest decrease in fatalities among
the top 10 (231 000 fewer deaths).
Deaths due to
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are particularly infrequent in
low-income countries compared to other income groups. It does not appear
in the top 10 for low-income countries yet ranks in the top 5 for all
other income groups.
countries have the most disparate top 10 causes of death: five
noncommunicable, four communicable, and one injury. Diabetes is a rising
cause of death in this income group: it has moved from the 15th to 9th
leading cause of death and the number of deaths from this disease has
nearly doubled since 2000.
As a top 10 cause of
death in this income group, diarrhoeal diseases remain a significant
challenge. However, this category of diseases represents the biggest
decrease in absolute deaths, falling from 1.9 million to 1.1 million
between 2000 and 2019. The biggest increase in absolute deaths is from
ischaemic heart disease, rising by more than 1 million to 3.1 million
since 2000. HIV/AIDS has seen the biggest decrease in rank among the
previous top 10 causes of death in 2000, moving from 8th to 15th.
upper-middle-income countries, there has been a notable rise in deaths
from lung cancer, which have increased by 411 000; more than double the
increase in deaths of all three other income groups combined. In
addition, stomach cancer features highly in upper-middle-income
countries compared to the other income groups, remaining the only group
with this disease in the top 10 causes of death.
of the biggest decreases in terms of absolute number of deaths is for
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which has fallen by nearly 264
000 to 1.3 million deaths. However, deaths from ischaemic heart disease
have increased by more than 1.2 million, the largest rise in any income
group in terms of absolute number of deaths from this cause.
is only one communicable disease (lower respiratory infections) in the
top 10 causes of death for upper-middle-income countries. Notably, there
has been a 31% fall in deaths from suicide since 2000 in this income
category, decreasing to 234 000 deaths in 2019.
high-income countries, deaths are increasing for all top 10 diseases
except two. Ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the only causes of
death in the top 10 for which the total numbers have gone down between
2000 and 2019, by 16% (or 327 000 deaths) and by 21% (or 205 000 deaths)
respectively. High-income is the only category of income group in which
there have been decreasing numbers of deaths from these two diseases.
Nonetheless ischaemic heart disease and stroke have remained in the top
three causes of death for this income category, with a combined total of
over 2.5 million fatalities in 2019. In addition, deaths from
hypertensive heart disease are rising. Reflecting a global trend, this
disease has risen from the 18th leading cause of death to the 9th.
due to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have increased,
overtaking stroke to become the second leading cause in high-income
countries, and being responsible for the deaths of 814 000 people in
2019. And, as with upper-middle-income countries, only one communicable
disease, lower respiratory infections, appears in the top 10 causes of
Why do we need to know the reasons people die?
is important to know why people die to improve how people live.
Measuring how many people die each year helps to assess the
effectiveness of our health systems and direct resources to where they
are needed most. For example, mortality data can help focus activities
and resource allocation among sectors such as transportation, food and
agriculture, and the environment as well as health.
has highlighted the importance for countries to invest in civil
registration and vital statistics systems to allow daily counting of
deaths, and direct prevention and treatment efforts. It has also
revealed inherent fragmentation in data collection systems in most
low-income countries, where policy-makers still do not know with
confidence how many people die and of what causes.
address this critical gap, WHO has partnered with global actors to
launch Revealing the Toll of COVID-19: Technical Package for Rapid
Mortality Surveillance and Epidemic Response. By providing the tools and
guidance for rapid mortality surveillance, countries can collect data
on total number of deaths by day, week, sex, age and location, thus
enabling health leaders to trigger more timely efforts for improvements
Furthermore, the World Health Organization
develops standards and best practices for data collection, processing
and synthesis through the consolidated and improved International
Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) – a digital platform that
facilitates reporting of timely and accurate data for causes of death
for countries to routinely generate and use health information that
conforms to international standards.
collection and analysis of high-quality data on deaths and causes of
death, as well as data on disability, disaggregated by age, sex and
geographic location, is essential for improving health and reducing
deaths and disability across the world.