Last updated on: 8/29/2018 | Author:

The Real Top 20 Causes of Death


572,537 people died of gunshots between the 18 years of 1999 and 2016, an average of 31,807 deaths per year. But, the CDC resource “20 Leading Causes of Death,” does not list firearms as a cause, even though nine of the 20 causes had fewer than 572,537 deaths during that time. Where did all of those firearms deaths go?

It turns out the CDC split gun deaths (as well as other non-disease causes) into three categories: unintentional injury, suicide, and homicide. We dug into those three categories, and added in legal intervention and undetermined intent deaths, to produce “The Real Top 20 Causes of Death,” which includes traffic accidents, poisoning, firearms, falls, and suffocation, none of which appeared in the CDC’s original Top 20.

Leading Causes of Death

Cause of DeathNumber of Deaths% of Total Deaths*
All Deaths44,915,066100%
1Heart Disease11,575,18325.8%
2Cancer (Malignant Neoplasms)10,244,53622.8%
3Stroke (Cerebrovascular Disease)2,580,1405.7%
4Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease2,434,7265.4%
5Alzheimer's Disease1,373,4123.1%
7Influenza & Pneumonia1,038,9692.3%
9Traffic Accident734,8691.6%
13Liver Disease562,3831.3%
16Parkinson's Disease377,9560.8%
19Benign Neoplasms260,3140.6%
20Perinatal Period238,9690.5%
All Other Causes7,981,97017.8%

*Percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth (one decimal) so the percentages may not add up to 100%.


Aortic Aneurysm: A bulge in the large artery that transports blood from the heart through the chest and torso.  

Cerebrovascular Disease: Commonly referred to as a stroke, cerebrovascular disease is when blood flow to the brain stops.

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease: COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema

Hypertension: Commonly referred to as high blood pressure.

Neoplasm: Commonly referred to as a tumor. Malignant neoplasms are cancerous tumors that destroy body tissue. Benign neoplasms do not attack body tissue.

Nephritis: An inflammation of the kidneys

Perinatal Period: The time immediately before and after birth, generally from 22 weeks of pregnancy to seven complete days after birth.

Septicemia: Also called sepsis, it is a bloodstream infection.


CDC, WISQARS Database, (accessed July 17, 2018)