Top 10 Causes of Death in Men

Men have shorter life expectancies than women. While we will all die eventually, there are things we can do to live longer and healthier lives, which improves the overall quality of our lives and our families lives.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019, 357,761 American men died of heart disease, representing 1 in every 4 male deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men each year. Men are more likely than women to die from most of these causes. Luckily, because many of these causes can be prevented, men can take steps to avoid them by knowing the symptoms, by having regular checkups by a doctor or health care provider and by taking steps to live a healthier life.

Number 1 – Heart Disease

Heart disease is a term that includes many specific heart conditions. According to the CDC, coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attacks, is the most common heart disease in the United States. Other heart conditions include chest pain known as angina, heart failure, and irregular heartbeats known as arrhythmias.

About Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

CAD develops when arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed from plaque buildup. Because buildup reduces blood flow and, therefore, oxygen to the heart it can lead to a heart attack.

Statistics

  • Because men usually develop heart disease 10-to-15 years earlier than women, men are more likely to die of it in the prime of life. (American Heart Association)
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.
  • Nearly 700,000 people die of heart disease annually – the equivalent of 29% of all deaths in the United States. (CDC)
  • About a quarter of all heart-disease-related deaths occur in men ages 35 to 65. (CDC)
  • In 2019, heart disease was the cause of death for 357,761 males. (CDC)

Symptoms of Heart Attack

According to the National Heart Attack Alert Program, major symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort: This discomfort is usually in the center of the chest and can last for a few minutes or come in waves. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Upper Body Discomfort: This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of Breath: This may occur before or in conjunction with chest discomfort.
  • Other: Some people may break out in a cold sweat, feel nauseated, or light–headed.

Prevention

Several health conditions can lead to heart attacks. These conditions include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Here are some things that you can do to lower your risk of a heart attack.

  • Treat high blood cholesterol by eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, keep a healthy weight, and get regular exercise. If in spite of your best efforts, your cholesterol remains high, discuss with your doctor medications that may help.
  • Control high blood pressure with a healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight. If after doing all these things, you still have high blood pressure, discuss options with your doctor regarding medications.
  • If you have diabetes, be sure to keep your blood sugar levels under control. People with diabetes have a heightened risk of heart disease.
  • Quit smoking and drink in moderation. Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are linked to high blood pressure, some heart disease, and stroke.

Number 2 – Cancer

According to CDC, the leading causes of cancer death in men are lung cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Statistics

  • In 2019, 315,876 men died of cancer in the U.S., the second-leading cause of death for both sexes. (CDC)
  • Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death for both men and women. (CDC)
  • Cigarette smoking causes 90% of lung cancer. (CDC)
  • In 2021, 69,410 men are projected to die of lung cancer. (ACS)

Symptoms

Lung Cancer

Nearly a quarter of people with lung cancer do not have symptoms from advanced cancer when their lung cancer is found. While symptoms may vary, the CDC lists the following as common symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Prevention

While there are some people who never smoke and who get lung cancer, the vast majority of those who get lung cancer smoke.

One of the best things you can do for your health is to quit smoking. See Smoke-free Illinois under Resources.

Prostate Cancer

The Prostate Cancer Foundation lists the following symptoms:

  • A need to urinate frequently, especially at night.
  • Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine.
  • Weak or interrupted flow of urine.
  • Painful or burning urination.
  • Difficulty in having an erection.
  • Painful ejaculation.
  • Blood in urine or semen.
  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.

Prevention

While preventing prostate cancer may not be possible, early detection does save lives. Discuss with your doctor whether you should have a prostate cancer screen and look for the symptoms above.

Colorectal Cancer

According to CDC, many people with colon cancer have no symptoms in the early stages. Signs and symptoms include:

  • A change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool for more than a couple of weeks.
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool.
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain.
  • Abdominal pain with a bowel movement.
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely.
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Prevention

While colon cancer cannot be prevented, early detection saves lives. Start prevention health screenings at age 45 or earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer or have other risk factors.

Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer occurs more commonly in younger men (age 20 to 54). According to the American Cancer Society, common signs of testicular cancer include:

  • Lumps (masses) 
  • Swelling 
  • Pain

Overall Cancer Prevention

  • Have regular preventive health screenings.
  • Quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke and other tobacco products.
  • Eat a healthy, varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
  • Limit your exposure to sun and use sunscreen.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • Be aware of potential cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) in your home and workplace, and take steps to reduce your exposure to these substances.
  • Know and review your family’s medical history.

Number 3 – Unintentional Injuries

Unintentional injuries are simply accidents. Though a leading cause of death for men – and Americans of all ages – many unintentional injuries can be easily prevented. Injuries in this category include, for example, injuries due to falls, fire, and impaired driving.

Statistics

  • In 2019, unintentional injuries were the leading cause of death for people ages 1 to 44 years and in 2021 the third leading cause of death overall. (CDC)
  • In 2019, 173,030 people died from unintentional injuries.(CDC)
  • In 2019, unintentional falls resulted in 39,433 deaths. (CDC)
  • Each year from 1999 – 2015 there have been 2,000 to 3,000 deaths due to residential fires. (CDC)
  • In 2019, 37,595 people died due to motor vehicle crashes. (CDC)
  • In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. (CDC)
  • Male drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes are almost twice as likely as female drivers to be intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or greater (NHTSA 2006). It is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or higher in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
  • Driving while distracted or tired increases your likelihood of being involved in an accident. Using a cell phone or other electronic device can be hazardous while driving and should be avoided.

Prevention

Falls

The CDC recommends the following preventative steps for older adults:

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise programs like Tai Chi that increase strength and improve balance are especially good.
  • Drink only in moderation.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines — both prescription and over-the counter — to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year.
  • Improve the lighting in your home.
  • Reduce hazards in your home that can lead to falls.

Fires

The CDC identifies a few main risk factors for unintentional injury due to fire.

  • Install Smoke Alarms: Approximately half of home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms.
  • Double Check Safety of Heating Units: Most residential fires occur during the winter months.
  • Drink in Moderation: Alcohol use contributes to an estimated 40% of residential fire deaths.

Number 4 – Stroke

A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted by either a blood clot blocking an artery or a blood vessel breaking. Under these conditions, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs. Brain damage from a stroke can lead to a loss of abilities, including speech, movement, and memory.

Statistics

  • In 2018, 62,844 men died of stroke (American Heart Association).
  • About 700,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke in the United States each year and more than 150,000 of these people die (American Heart Association).
  • About 5.7 million U.S. stroke survivors are alive today, many with permanent stroke-related disabilities (American Heart Association).

Symptoms

The National Stroke Association lists the following as common symptoms of stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Try this easy-to-remember test and “Act F.A.S.T” if you think someone you know is having a stroke:

F FACE - Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A ARM - Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S SPEECH - Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T TIME - If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call 9-1-1 or get to the nearest stroke center or hospital.

Prevention

According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, leading risks factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Tobacco use
  • Diabetes
  • Carotid or other artery disease
  • Atrial fibrillation or other heart disease
  • History of “mini-strokes” known as TIAs
  • High red blood cell count
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • High cholesterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Some illegal drugs

Number 5 – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Lung Diseases)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term physicians use to refer to two lung diseases – chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The diseases frequently exist together and both are conditions that cause a blockage of airflow that interferes with normal breathing.

Statistics

  • In 2018, 73,887 men died of COPD. (American Lung Association)
  • Between 80% and 90% of COPD deaths are caused by smoking. Men who smoke are nearly 12 times as likely to die from COPD as men who have never smoked. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Symptoms

  • Chronic Bronchitis: Chronic cough, increased mucus, frequent clearing of the throat, and shortness of breath.
  • Emphysema: Shortness of breath and a reduced capacity for physical activity – both of which worsen over time.

Prevention

  • Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Take preventative steps by not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke.
  • Minimize exposure to workplace chemicals. According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, occupational exposure to certain industrial pollutants may increase the chance of developing COPD.

Number 6 – Diabetes

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, diabetes can refer either to a deficiency of insulin or to the body’s decreased ability to use insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows glucose (sugar) to enter cells and be converted into energy. The body’s ability to synthesize protein and to store fats also depends on normal levels of insulin. If diabetes is left untreated, glucose and fats remain in the bloodstream and, over time, damage the body’s vital organs and contribute to heart disease.

There are two main types of diabetes -- non-insulin dependent (type-2) and insulin dependent (type- 1). Non-insulin dependent diabetes, which usually appears after the age of 40, is the most common type, affecting 90% to 95% of those who have the disease. Insulin-dependent diabetes, or type-1 diabetes, affects the remaining proportion of those with the disease. Although this type of diabetes can occur at any age, it most often appears in childhood or during the teen years. Over a third of people with diabetes do not know they have the disease. This is why diabetes is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer.”

Statistics

  • As of 2018, 9.8 million men aged 20 years or older in the United States had diabetes (CDC)
  • Adults with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to die of heart disease or have a stroke than adults without diabetes. (CDC)
  • In 2017, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death. (CDC)
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults aged 18-64 years. (CDC)
  • Approximately 1 in 3 adults with diabetes have chronic kidney disease.

Symptoms

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem harmless. Recent studies indicate early detection of diabetes symptoms and treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes.

Symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Increased fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision

Prevention

Your risk for type-2 diabetes and heart disease depends on factors that can be managed (modifiable risk factors) and others that are genetic (non-modifiable risk factors). Understanding and managing your risk factors can help you avoid diabetes and heart disease and live a longer, better life.

Modifiable Risk Factors

  • Overweight and obesity
  • High blood glucose
  • High blood pressure
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Family history

Number 7 – Influenza and Pneumonia

Influenza

According to the CDC, influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. The flu can cause varying degrees of illness from mild to fatal. The flu is spread from person-to-person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. Some people, such as older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications including death.

Prevention

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year. Hand-washing and avoiding others with the flu also may help.

Pneumonia

The Mayo Clinic reports that pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs usually caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi, or other organisms. Pneumonia is a particular concern for older adults and people with chronic illnesses or impaired immune systems, but it can also strike young, healthy people. There are many kinds of pneumonia ranging in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. Pneumonia acquired while in the hospital can be particularly virulent and deadly. Although antibiotics can treat some of the most common forms of bacterial pneumonias, antibiotic-resistant strains are a growing problem. For that reason, and because the disease can be very serious, it's best to try to prevent infection in the first place.

Statistics

  • Every year in the United States, on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from flu. (CDC)
  • Every year, more than 60,000 Americans die of pneumonia. (Mayo Clinic)
  • Worldwide, pneumonia is a leading cause of death in children. (Mayo Clinic)

Symptoms

The CDC states the flu usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms:

  • Fever (usually high)
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea also can occur, but are more common in children than adults

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of pneumonia may vary with many cases of pneumonia developing suddenly. Symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Infection often follows a cold or the flu, but it can also be associated with other illnesses or occur on its own.

Prevention

Pneumonia is slightly more complicated compared to flu because you usually don't "catch" pneumonia from someone else. Instead, you develop the disease because your immune system is temporarily weakened, often for no known reason. The following suggestions from the Mayo Clinic can help prevent pneumonia:

  • Get vaccinated - Because pneumonia can be a complication of the flu, getting a yearly flu shot is a good way to prevent viral influenza pneumonia, which can lead to bacterial pneumonia. In addition, get a vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia at least once after age 65 and, if you have any risk factors, every five years thereafter.
  • Wash your hands - Your hands are in almost constant contact with germs that can cause pneumonia. These germs enter your body when you touch your eyes or rub the inside of your nose. Washing your hands thoroughly and often can help reduce your risk. When washing isn't possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, which can be more effective than soap and water in destroying the bacteria and viruses that cause disease. What's more, most hand sanitizers contain ingredients that keep your skin moist. Carry one in your purse or in your pocket.
  • Don't smoke - Smoking damages your lungs' natural defenses against respiratory infections.
  • Take care of yourself - Proper rest and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with moderate exercise, can help keep your immune system strong.
  • Protect others from infection - If you have pneumonia, try to stay away from anyone with a compromised immune system. When that isn't possible, you can help protect others by wearing a face mask or always coughing into a tissue.

Number 8 - Suicide

According to the Mayo Clinic, men are more likely than women to commit suicide because they are more likely to use deadlier means, such as firearms. Depression is one of the most important risk factors in suicide. Unfortunately, male depression is under-diagnosed because men are less likely to seek help and because men don’t always develop standard symptoms, such as sadness, but instead are more likely to experience fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbances, and a loss of interest in work and hobbies. (Mayo Clinic)

About Depression

According to the Men’s Health Network, depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. In some cases, it can be caused by a deficit of the chemicals in the body that are responsible for maintaining energy. Having a family member with depression also increases your risk and major life crises may make it worse. Fortunately, in most cases, depression is treatable. If you are depressed, be sure to see a doctor right away. Waiting will only make it worse for you and those loved ones around you. (Men’s Health Network)

Statistics

According to the CDC:

  • In 2019, 47,500 suicides occurred in the U.S. This is equivalent to 1 death every 11 minutes.
  • Males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females and represent 79% of all U.S. suicides.
  • Suicide rates for males are highest among those aged 75 and older (rate 36 per 100,000).
  • Firearms are involved in 57% of suicides among males, making it the most commonly used method for men.
  • The number of deaths from suicide reflects only a small portion of the impact of suicidal behavior. In 2018 the number of emergency department visits for self-harm injury was 312,000.

Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, people at risk of suicide may:

  • Be depressed, moody, socially withdrawn, or aggressive
  • Have suffered a recent life crisis
  • Show changes in personality
  • Feel worthless
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Have frequent thoughts about death
  • Talk about death and self-destruction

Prevention

Don’t expect to overcome depression by yourself. It is a disease, not something that you will just “get over.” If you are depressed, talk to your doctor. In an urgent situation, go to a hospital emergency department or crisis center for help. Also, take advice from friends and family members if they are encouraging you to seek help. They are often the first ones to notice. (Mayo Clinic)

Also, work to improve your emotional health and well-being. When stress doesn’t go away, it begins to weaken your immune system and increase your risk of developing a number of physical and mental conditions. The Men’s Health Network recommends some lifestyle changes to help you cope:

  • Take Care of Yourself – Exercise, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.
  • Meditate – It has been shown to lower blood pressure and relieve tension.
  • Talk to Someone Else – It creates a support network.
  • Prioritize – Save the least important things for later.
  • Know Your Limits – Sometimes it isn’t bad to just walk away.
  • Don’t Self-Mediate – Don’t turn to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

Number 9 – Kidney Disease

According to the CDC, kidney disease occurs when the kidneys become damaged and lose their ability to filter the blood. Kidney disease most often happens slowly and may go undetected until the kidneys have almost failed. The two most common causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also be hereditary. People with these risk factors should get tested for kidney disease on an annual basis. African Americans, American Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics are particularly vulnerable.

According to the National Kidney Disease Education Program, if your kidneys stop working completely, your body fills with extra water and waste products. This often leads to seizures or a coma and will ultimately result in death. If your kidneys stop working completely, you will need to undergo dialysis or kidney transplantation.

Statistics

According to the CDC:

  • More than 8 million Americans have a major loss in kidney function.
  • Nearly 400,000 of those Americans require dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.

Symptoms

Because kidney disease progresses slowly and may be hard to detect, it is very important to know the symptoms. While kidney disease cannot be cured, your doctors can take steps to help your kidneys last longer if the disease is caught in the early stages.

According to Life Options, symptoms to look for include:

  • Changes in urination
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, face, and/or hands
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rash or sever itching
  • Metallic taste in mouth or bad breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling cold all of the time, even in a warm room
  • Dizziness and trouble concentrating
  • Pain in the leg, back, or side

The CDC notes that many people do not know they have kidney disease because there may be no symptoms until the kidneys have nearly failed. The only way to find out if you have kidney disease is to have a urine or blood test.

Prevention

The Mayo Clinic suggests these preventative measures:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain your proper weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Get checked regularly for diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Limit your use of over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Take all medications only as directed

Additionally, according to the CDC, people with diabetes can prevent or slow kidney disease through blood pressure and blood glucose control. People with kidney disease also must maintain low protein and low salt diets, take daily medication, and follow-up with their health care providers.

Number 10 – Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable, progressive degenerative disease of the brain. It is the most common form of dementia. It is not just memory loss, but also a decline in the ability to think and understand. Consequent changes in personality are accompanied by an inability to function. The type, severity, sequence, and progression of the mental changes vary widely among individuals. Because age is the most important known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, the longer people live, the more likely they are to develop the disease.

Statistics

  • In 2018, over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and an estimated 222,000 live in Illinois (Alzheimer's Association).
  • About 1 in 10 persons 65 years of age and older and almost half of those 85 years of age and older will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
  • More than 70% of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease live at home, where the majority of their care (75%) is provided by family and friends.
  • Unless a cure or prevention is found, an estimated 14 million Americans will be stricken with Alzheimer’s disease by 2050.
  • A person with Alzheimer’s disease lives an average of eight years and as many as 20 years or more from the onset of symptoms.
  • The most common cause of death for persons with Alzheimer’s disease is infection.

Symptoms

An early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can increase the chance of potential benefits from approved medications. It also allows that person to participate in health care, financial, and legal decisions.

Symptoms/warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease may include the following:

  • Memory loss or unexplained confusion that interferes with daily activities
  • Difficulty in performing familiar tasks and chores
  • Problems speaking, understanding, reading, or writing
  • Forgetting words or substituting inappropriate words
  • Disorientation to time and place (e.g., getting lost in familiar surroundings)
  • Poor or decreased judgment (e.g., wearing a winter coat on a hot summer day)
  • Problems with abstract thinking (e.g., difficulty balancing a checkbook)
  • Misplacing things in inappropriate places (e.g., putting the iron in the freezer)
  • Changes in mood or behavior (e.g., rapid mood swings for no apparent reason or cursing)
  • Drastic changes in personality (e.g., suspiciousness)
  • Lack of interest and involvement in usual activities

If several of these symptoms/warning signs are present, the person should be evaluated by a physician. Frequently, the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which include forgetfulness and loss of concentration, are mistakenly dismissed as normal signs of aging.

Additionally, it is important to determine the actual cause of the cognitive symptoms, as they may not be caused by Alzheimer’s disease and many causes, such as depression, drug interaction, thyroid problems, and vitamin deficiencies, are reversible if detected early and treated appropriately.

Prevention

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no proven way to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. However, they suggest improving your cardiovascular function may help. Suggested steps are:

  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Controlling your blood pressure
  • Keeping your cholesterol levels in normal range

The CDC also notes that there is some research indicating that doing intellectually challenging activities may help delay the onset of dementia. While there is some controversy about this research, maintaining your mental fitness can’t hurt.