Top 10 causes of death worldwide

The World Health Organization (WHO) regularly investigates what kills people around the world. In developing countries in particular, this sometimes includes diseases that have now completely disappeared in industrialized countries or can be easily cured with medication.

In richer countries, on the other hand, people die more frequently as a result of so-called lifestyle diseases such as  gout  or  diabetes . Civilization diseases are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, such as a fatty, sugary diet, stress and a lack of exercise.

The list below summarizes the  ten leading causes of death worldwide  in 2019, which collectively accounted for 55 percent of deaths. Overall, the WHO recorded 55.4 million deaths worldwide this year.

Coronary heart disease

The leading cause of death worldwide is  ischemic or coronary artery disease (CHD),  a disease of the coronary arteries. It usually occurs as a result of arteriosclerosis. In ischemic heart disease, blood flow deteriorates, which means there is a reduced supply of oxygen to the heart. This, in turn  , can lead to cardiac arrhythmia , heart failure, a heart attack, and sudden cardiac death. In 2019, almost 8.9 million people worldwide died from the effects of ischemic heart disease – this corresponds to 16 percent of all deaths.


Stroke, or  stroke  , killed about 6.19 million people in 2019, accounting for 11 percent of deaths. It usually occurs suddenly and unexpectedly and is therefore not only one of the most common but also one of the most dangerous causes of death. A stroke is caused by a sudden lack of oxygen in the nerve cells of the brain. Symptoms of a stroke can include severe headaches, blurred vision, dizziness,  nausea , confusion, and paralysis of the face, arms, or legs.


As an almost direct consequence of smoking,  “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease”  ( COPD ) is the third leading cause of death worldwide. In COPD, the bronchial tubes gradually narrow, which ultimately leads to overinflation of the lungs and thus to shortness of breath. In 90 percent of cases, the disease is caused by smoking. 6 percent of deaths in 2019 were due to COPD, a total of 3.23 million people died from it.

respiratory diseases

Diseases of the  lower respiratory tract  include a wide variety of diseases, such as colds, flu, asthma, pneumonia and  allergies . Although these diseases are usually easily treatable, 2.6 million people died from them in 2019. In developing countries in particular, there is often an insufficient supply of medicines, so that children and old, weak people in particular often die of simple diseases, although an injection or a few pills would have been enough for treatment. But even in western countries, pneumonia and flu are often deadly for older people who already have a weakened immune system.

neonatal diseases

Neonatal diseases –  complications in newborns  – were responsible for the deaths of 2 million babies and young children in 2019. The number is therefore significantly lower than it was in 2000. Possible complications include neonatal  sepsis  (blood poisoning), complications associated with premature birth or birth asphyxia, i.e. a severe lack of oxygen. Child mortality is particularly high in poorer countries.

Bronchial carcinoma

Tracheal cancer and bronchial or  lung cancer  are also among the diseases that mainly develop as a result of smoking. While  lung cancer  (bronchial carcinoma) is one of the most common malignant diseases, tracheal cancer (tracheal carcinoma) is rather rare. Nevertheless, the forms of cancer are very aggressive and therefore often lead to death. In 2019, 1.8 million people died from tracheal cancer or bronchial carcinoma.

Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia

In  2019, a total of 1.64 million deaths could be attributed to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia  – 65 percent of them were women. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is associated with increasing deterioration of nerve cells in the brain and mental abilities. This manifests itself, for example, in memory and orientation disorders as well as an increasingly declining ability to judge and think. Strictly speaking, people with dementia do not die from the disease itself, but from its consequences. In the course of the disease – partly due to being confined to bed – the ability of the immune system to defend itself decreases sharply. Those affected often suffer from  pneumonia  or other infections in the late stages, which ultimately lead to death.


In developing countries in particular,  diarrhea is  one of the most common causes of death. Children in particular often die from eating unhygienically prepared food, which can trigger salmonella poisoning, for example. Dysentery, cholera, typhus and intestinal tuberculosis are also among the dangerous diarrheal diseases. Dehydration of the body is particularly feared with  diarrhea  : Due to the ongoing loss of fluids, the body loses more water than it can absorb and thus dries out internally. Around 1.52 million people died worldwide in 2019 as a result of diarrhea, many of them children.


Diabetes, also known colloquially as sugar disease, is one of the metabolic diseases. In  diabetes mellitus  , the blood sugar level is elevated, which over time leads to damage to organs and nerves. The long-term effects of diabetes include  heart attacks , strokes and circulatory disorders. People with type 2 diabetes in particular can improve their condition by changing their lifestyle and diet. Nevertheless, almost 1.5 million people died of diabetes mellitus in 2019.

kidney diseases

In 2019, 1.3 million deaths worldwide were attributed to  kidney disease  . These diseases are thus showing a significant increase in the causes of death. Kidney diseases with a fatal outcome include, for example,  acute kidney failure .


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