Top 5 Leading Causes of Death (And How to Prevent Them)

The leading causes of death in the United States may sound unavoidable, but there are many steps you can take to protect yourself. Learn how to prevent conditions like stroke, heart disease and lung disease to increase your chances of leading a long, healthy life.

1) Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), roughly 610,000 Americans die each year of heart disease. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease (CHD), which kills around 370,000 people in the U.S. each year.

CHD is caused by the buildup of plaque, called atherosclerosis, inside coronary arteries. A diet high in cholesterol is one of the leading causes of atherosclerosis. Certain medications also help lower your risk of CHD, like PCSK9 inhibitors that aim to lower cholesterol.

Preventing heart disease starts with lowering your cholesterol. The good news is that making just a few lifestyle and diet changes can lower your cholesterol and tremendously reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

To lower your cholesterol, stop consuming trans fats and reduce your intake of saturated fats. Not all fats are the same; in fact, you should incorporate foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as avocados, into your diet to reduce your cholesterol levels even further.

Exercise also helps lower your cholesterol, which lowers your risk of developing CHD. This may include walking, jogging or engaging in a gentle sport like tennis. For those with limited mobility, qater aerobics are ideal for getting exercise without putting unnecessary stress on the body. Aim to get four to five days of moderate physical activity each week for the best results.

Preventing heart disease is also done by controlling blood pressure. Individuals with high blood pressure are at a higher risk for heart attack, stroke and heart disease.

It is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Doctors recommend checking it at least once a year, especially for those with high levels. This way, patients with high blood pressure can monitor their levels and stay within a healthy range to reduce their risk of heart disease.

2) Cancer

The broad term of cancer refers to a disease where abnormal cells grow too quickly and invade other healthy tissues. These abnormal cells become cancerous when they accumulate in areas of the body where they should not and form malignant tumors or growths which interfere with the body’s natural processes. Some leading causes of death in the form of cancer include breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer.

For some individuals, cancer is hereditary. For others, cancer develops after a long period of poor lifestyle choices and bad habits.

Preventing cancer is not guaranteed, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of cancer. For example, smoking is linked to lung cancer as well as many other types of this disease, so quitting would greatly reduce someone’s risk of developing cancer.  

Cancer prevention is essential when going outdoors. This includes wearing sunscreen, staying in the shade and wearing long-sleeve clothing. Individuals should reduce sun exposure to avoid the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are linked with skin cancer.

Other lifestyle changes include eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Individuals should get regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight and receive immunizations whenever suggested. For example, HPV immunizations reduce a patient’s risk of cervical cancers.

3) Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases

Chronic obstructed pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and chronic bronchitis are common examples of chronic lower respiratory diseases (CLRDs). These preventable diseases often develop after smoking cigarettes, which is why those who smoke cigarettes should quit as soon as possible to significantly reduces their risk of developing COPD and other lung-related diseases.

Other causes of CLRDs include long-term exposure to certain air pollutants and chemicals and a person’s genetic makeup. Certain individuals with dangerous work environments, such as chemical labs, may be at higher risk of developing a CLRD.

Preventing CLRDs begins with an awareness of one’s environment. For example, construction workers should always wear proper protective equipment when working with chemicals or pollutants, like facial masks that cover both the mouth and nose.

4) Stroke

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and it often presents unexpectedly. There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. During an ischemic stroke, a blood vessel carrying oxygen to the brain becomes blocked by a clot. During a hemorrhagic stroke, a weak vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is another type of “mini stroke” that mimics stroke symptoms. During a TIA, individuals may experience muscle weakness, partial paralysis and trouble speaking. A TIA is often a precursor to a full-blown stroke and should be treated like one.

Stroke prevention starts with analyzing a person’s risk factors. Certain people may be more at risk of developing a stroke, including those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and those that live a sedentary lifestyle.

Obesity is another leading cause of stroke. Maintaining a healthy weight and body-mass index (BMI) is key to preventing a stroke. This is done through healthy diet changes and a moderate daily exercise.

Other stroke prevention tips include quitting tobacco use, lowering cholesterol, treating sleep apnea, drinking alcohol in moderation and managing diabetes. Using illegal drugs dramatically increases stroke risk as well, so drug consumption should be avoided at all cost.

5) Unintentional Injuries

Injury prevention involves protecting the body against harm caused by various sources. An unintentional injury may occur at home, at work or on the roadway. The most common unintentional injuries that lead to death include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Suffocation
  • Drowning
  • Poisoning
  • Burns/fires
  • Sports and recreation injuries

Nearly all unintentional injuries and emergencies can be prevented by simply slowing down and being aware of one’s environment.

For example, injury prevention for children requires attention to detail. Babyproofing a house is essential in keeping little ones out of harm’s way. This includes locking medicine cabinets, keeping cleaning products out of reach and installing gates in front of stairwells.

Staying alert and free of distractions while operating a motor vehicle greatly reduces the risk of a car accident. Also, all motor vehicle occupants should be wearing a seatbelt any time the car is in motion. Parents must learn how to properly install a car seat to ensure the utmost safety of their child.

Other ways to reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities include:

  • Installing and periodically checking smoke detectors.
  • Establishing a fire escape plan with family members.
  • Keeping a well-stocked first-aid kit at home.
  • Keeping a list of important emergency numbers, like poison control.
  • Keeping cords and window pulls tied at the top of the window.
  • Installing a carbon monoxide detector.