The Most Common Cause of Death in All 50 States

Jalesa Campbell
Updated May 14, 2021
3 min read

Death has never been an easy subject to talk about, and this year with the pandemic, it’s been even tougher.  However, death is a normal part of life, yet having a better understanding of common causes outside of natural death can help us to have a clearer picture of any behaviors or habits we need to address and change, as well as any that we could address with loved ones to potentially keep them with us.

We set out to uncover the most common cause of death in the United States using statistics provided by Data Commons. While some of our findings may not surprise you, they’re enlightening and can be useful when making choices that impact the safety of our lives.

The Most Common Cause of Death for Each State (1991-2017)

The Most Common Causes of Death, Explained

The most common cause of death for 49 U.S. states were diseases of the circulatory system. Correlatively, the CDC specifies heart disease as the leading cause of death in our country, with approximately 655,000 Americans losing their lives each year due to this condition. Diseases of the circulatory system include heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, and several others.

New York had the highest number of deaths, more than 1 million, due to diseases of the circulatory system from 1991 to 2017The New York State Department of Health published that cardiovascular disease (CVD) “was the primary cause of death for New York’s citizens, both men, and women, as well as all races in 1999.”

Wyoming had the least number of deaths, under 25,000, from 1991 to 2017 due to diseases of the circulatory system. Out of the causes reported, more than 15 million Americans have lost their lives due to circulatory diseases (Data Commons). Those who have preexisting conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are at greater risk. Lifestyle, as well as genetics, can also contribute to the risk of developing the disease.

Two of the most common causes of death after circulatory diseases were neoplasms and respiratory system diseases. Neoplasms are abnormal growths that can be cancerous or non-cancerous. The National Cancer Institute projects about 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year, while millions of Americans have been diagnosed with a respiratory illness.

Here’s a further explanation of the top three common causes of death in the U.S.:

  • Diseases of the Circulatory System – Our circulatory system is also known as our cardiovascular system. These are diseases that deal with the heart and blood. These are several diseases of the circulatory system: high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, abdominal aortic aneurysms, and peripheral artery disease (Healthline).
  • Diseases of the Respiratory System – Our respiratory system enables us to breathe. Several diseases of the respiratory system include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer (Healthline).
  • Neoplasms – Neoplasms are abnormal growths of cells or tumors. The tumors can be cancerous or non-cancerous. There many types of cancer, including breast cancer, skin cancer, prostate cancer, and others. Some benign neoplasms include moles, cysts, uterine fibroids, and others.

Case Study: The Most Common Causes of Death in New York vs. Utah

While circulatory diseases are most common across the U.S., there are still some interesting variances between states. For instance, when comparing New York and Utah, we found that external causes were the third-most common in Utah. For New York, respiratory illnesses were the third most common.

Does regionality have anything to do with this difference?

We found that Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and is also part of what’s known as the “Suicide Belt”. USA Today ranked Utah as the 5th state in the nation with the highest suicide rate, which in 2016 was 21.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Compared to New York, which ranked 49th, having about 8 deaths per 100,000 people, Utah saw more than double the number of suicide deaths.

This is a very concerning statistic for the state, but it also explains why we found external causes to be a leading factor in Utah mortalities.

For both states, neoplasms were the second-most common factor in deaths, potentially being malignant cancers. As the third-most-common cause for New York being diseases of the respiratory system, it’s fair to correlate this with the air quality in New York and urbanization. New York has been marked as one of the ten cities where ozone pollution is a problem, which can trickle down and negatively affect residents’ health.

Overall, our findings can be used as a wake-up call for many Americans to take better care of their health. Americans need to especially focus on habits that could reinforce or put them at greater risk for cardiovascular issues. It’s worth noting that 1 in 5 heart attacks go unnoticed, still leaving behind damage that many are not aware of (CDC).

We hope our findings can help you determine what adjustments may be needed in your life to improve and maintain wellness.

Methodology: How Did We Rank the Most Common Causes of Death in Every State?

To determine the most common cause of death in each state, we gathered and analyzed recordings from Data Commons provided for each state from 1991 to 2017. Causes of death were summed to determine the most prevalent in each state.



Data Commons


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The National Cancer Institute

The New York State Department of Health

USA Today


Photo Credits:

Photo by Xesai / GettyImages

Photo by Yanukit Raiva / EyeEm / GettyImages

Safety and Security Reporter

Jalesa Campbell

Jalesa is one of's staff experts on home security, natural disasters, public safety, and family safety. She's been featured on and elsewhere.

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