Heart disease & the top 10 causes of death

54% of worldwide death belong to the top 10 causes. Any guess at number one?

We’ve spoken about the risk of heart disease, especially cases of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) at length previously – and it’s with good reason.

In the last 15 years, Ischaemic (meaning “reduced blood supply”) heart disease and stroke have held the top spot for leading causes of death, with a combined total of 15.2 million.

But why?

Why is it important to know why people die? It’s useful for assessing a country’s health system and then allow authorities to focus their efforts. Countries with an increase in particular health issues can then work to combat these through programmes and education – like this fantastic blog.

Top 10

One of the most common thought top causes of death is cancer. This can likely be attributed to the devastating nature of the disease. Cancer impacts on younger lives and the charitable work undertaken to combat its effects.

Worldwide, we see trachea, bronchus and lung cancers as the 6th most common cause of death. This is probably down to high smoking rates in some parts of the world.

Top causes of death in High income countries
Top causes of death in High income countries


Cancer does move up the scale, but only when the data is separated into high-income countries. In this data set colon, rectum, and breast cancer move into the top 10 causes of death with a combined total.
Even then, it’s still less than that of Ischaemic heart disease.

Not just the ticker

Ischaemic heart disease does lose its top spot in some data sets – when isolating low-income countries.

In this data set, lower respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases take 1st and 2nd.
These, along with 6 other top causes of death taken from this data fall into the communicable, maternal, neonatal, nutritional and injuries categories. Essentially meaning they are passed from person to person (malaria, tuberculosis etc.) or down to a lesser advanced healthcare system.


Heart Disease: Deaths in low-income countries
Heart Disease: Deaths in low-income countries


Still, Ischaemic heart disease remains in the top 10 (3rd) cause of death affecting >50 per 100,000 of the population.

Heart Disease and Stroke

Ischaemic heart disease is where atherosclerosis, a blockage of the coronary arteries, led to a reduced supply of oxygenated blood. This can cause angina or a heart attack.
Without immediate treatment, a heart attack can lead to death.

Similar to the causes of Ischaemic heart disease, a stroke occurs through a blockage of blood supply, this time to the brain.

The causes of these “blockages” vary from person to person and are still debated. However, most agree the following lifestyle choices are likely to increase the risk of Ischaemic heart disease and stroke:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High amounts of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes

A healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and managing stress are also important factors in preventing Ischaemic heart disease.

Frighteningly, Sudden Cardiac Arrest can strike anybody at any time. We’ve recently written about how young footballers and Ranulph Fiennes have been impacted by SCA.


In the unfortunate case of SCA, you need CPR and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to be applied immediately, each minute without these reduces survival by 20% per minute.

Where an AED is applied in the first minute, the chances of survival stand at 90%, dropping to 74% in 3 minutes.

Do you have an AED within 1 minute of where you’re sitting right now? To find out more about life-saving  AED’s, click here.

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