The Real Top 20 Causes of Death

We know that 533,879 people died of gunshots between 1999 and 2015. But, when we looked at the CDC resource "20 Leading Causes of Death," we did not find firearms listed as a cause, even though nine of the 20 causes had fewer than 533,879 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. The causes of death with numbers lower than 183,322 (the number of HIV deaths, the CDC's 20th ranked cause) were added to the "all other causes" category. 

I. Leading Causes of Death
Cause of Death
(click cause for more information)
of Deaths
% of Total
All Deaths 42,170,818 100%
1 Heart Disease 10,939,923 25.9%
2 Malignant Neoplasms (cancer) 9,646,498 22.9%
3 Cerebrovascular Disease (stroke) 2,437,998 5.8%
4 Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease 2,280,130 5.4%
5 Alzheimer's Disease 1,257,309 3.0%
6 Diabetes 1,236,321 2.9%
7 Influenza & Pneumonia 987,432 2.3%
8 Nephritis 757,934 1.8%
9 Traffic Accident 736,370 1.7%
10 Poisoning 633,556 1.5%
11 Septicemia 594,484 1.4%
12 Firearm 533,879 1.3%
13 Liver Disease 521,837 1.2%
14 Hypertension 420,559 1.0%
15 Fall 398,060 0.9%
16 Parkinson's Disease 348,259 0.8%
17 Pneumonitis 294,900 0.7%
18 Suffocation 255,911 0.6%
19 Benign Neoplasms 244,520 0.6%
20 Perinatal Period 227,476 0.5%
21 Aortic Aneurysm 211,973 0.5%
22 HIV 183,322 0.4%
23 All Other Causes 7,022,167 16.7%

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

II. Glossary
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.

Source: CDC, WISQARS Database, (accessed July 12, 2017)
III. Related Links
1. Leading Causes of Suicide, Homicide, and Unintentional Death

2. US Gun Deaths

3. International Firearm Homicide Rates