WHO: Heart disease, stroke leading causes of death in 2019

Heart disease has been the world's leading cause of death for at least the last 20 years, the World Health Organization said. Photo by hamiltonpaviana/Pixabay
Heart disease has been the world's leading cause of death for at least the last 20 years, the World Health Organization said. Photo by hamiltonpaviana/Pixabay

Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Noncommunicable diseases accounted for seven of the world's 10 leading causes of death in 2019, according to the World Health Organization, with heart disease continuing to top the list.

Published Wednesday, the WHO's 2019 Global Health Estimates said noncommunicable diseases, such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease and cancers, made up seven of the 10 leading causes of death last year, accounting for 44% of all lives lost.


This represents an increase from 2000 when noncommunicable diseases only took up four of the 10 spots.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said these estimates highlight the need to intensify global focus on preventing and treating cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.

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"They highlight the urgency of drastically improving primary healthcare equitably and holistically," he said in a statement. "Strong primary healthcare is clearly the foundation on which everything rests, from combatting noncommunicable diseases to managing a global pandemic."


Heart disease was by far the leading cause of death last year, accounting for 16% of the world's total deaths, or 8.9 million lives, according to a summary of the report, which includes the updates on health trends from 2000 to 2019.

Heart disease has been the leading cause of death for at least two decades but it has also experienced the largest increase in deaths in that timespan compared to the other causes on the list.

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Since 2000, its death toll has climbed by an additional 2 million lives, it said.

Stroke came second on the list followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in third, accounting for 11% and 6% of all deaths respectively.

In fourth was lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, bronchitis and tuberculosis, making it the deadliest communicable disease last year.

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However, according to the report, lower respiratory infections claimed fewer lives last year compared to two decades ago with deaths falling by 460,000 to 2.6 million in 2019.

"This reduction is in line with a general global decline in the percentage of deaths caused by communicable diseases," the WHO said, explaining that HIV/AIDS dropped from the eighth-leading cause of death in 2000 to 19th last year due to efforts to prevent infection and improved testing and treatment.


In Africa, HIV/AIDS remained the fourth-leading cause of death, but its death toll has halved in the past 20 years from 1 million lives lost to 435,000, the report said.

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In fifth was neonatal conditions, such as birth asphyxia and trauma and neonatal sepsis and infections, but the report said such issues have seen the largest improvement from 2000 when they claimed the lives of 2 million newborns and young children. Last year, neonatal conditions accounted for only about 800,000, according to the repot.

Trachea, bronchus and lung cancers came in at sixth followed by Alzheimer's disease at seventh, which disproportionally affects women who account for 65% of all such deaths, it said.

"Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are now among the top 10 causes of death worldwide, ranking third in both the Americas and Europe in 2019," the WHO said.

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Diarrhoeal diseases was eight on the list followed by diabetes at ninth and Kidney diseases in 10th.

The report noted that people living in low-income nations are far more likely to die from a communicable disease than an Noncommunicable.

A trend the report found was that people on average were living six years longer compared to 2000, with the global average climbing from 67 two decades ago to 73 in 2019.


However, the report said that due to an increase in disability, only five of those additional years were lived in good health.

"To a large extent, the diseases and health conditions that are causing the most deaths are those that are responsible for the greatest number of health life-years lost," the WHO explained. "Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were collectively responsible for nearly 100 million additional healthy life-years lost in 2019 compared to 2000."

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