Top 10 Causes of Death for Americans Ages 20 to 24

The causes of death among people ages 20 to 24 in the United States are either congenital (present at birth) or largely preventable. Far too many young people die prematurely and in ways that could have been avoided.

This article will go over the top causes of death for people in that age group and how each one can be prevented.

1

Accidents

Two cars involved in a car accident

Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images 

According to 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, accidents account for 45% of deaths among people in the 20 to 24 age group.

Motor vehicle accidents alone account for the majority of those. The good news is that the motor vehicle death rate has been going down in recent years. That's due to cars getting safer.

To protect yourself, wear your seat belt, drive defensively, and avoid risky behaviors that may lead to accidents.

2

Suicide

Suicide accounts for 18% of deaths among people of this age group. Most people who commit suicide feel like it is their only way out of a bad situation.

However, people have suicidal thoughts for many reasons. If you experience depression or other mental health issues, seek help.

With talk therapy and medications, you can find that life is worth living. In fact, most people who attempt suicide say they regret it.

Interviews with 29 people who survived a suicide attempt by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge say they regret set in the moment they jumped.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) right away. This free hotline is available 24 hours a day.

3

Homicide

Homicide—murder—is responsible for 15% of deaths between the ages of 15 and 24.

In 2017, three quarters of all homicides in the U.S. were committed with firearms. Gun violence is more common in urban and poor communities.

You may not have much control over where you live. But you can protect yourself by avoiding dangerous and confrontational situations and seeking help for domestic violence.

Recap

The top 3 causes of death among 20-24 year olds are mostly preventable. The include accidents (mostly car accidents), suicide, and homicide. Driving safely, getting help for depression, and avoiding confrontations are ways to protect yourself.

4

Cancer

Cancer deaths account for 4% of deaths in the 20 to 24 age group. This percentage includes many childhood cancers.

So far, there's no proven way to prevent cancer. ​You may be able to decrease your risk by:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Staying active
  • Not smoking
  • Being aware of early cancer symptoms and getting early medical help

If you're at high risk, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to lower that risk.

5

Heart Disease

Close to 3% of deaths in people 20 to 24 are from heart disease.

Exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent and reverse heart disease. However, many young people who die of heart disease were born with it.

6

Congenital Conditions

Congenital illnesses account for just under 1% of deaths among this age group.

Some of these conditions are inherited from parents, such as cystic fibrosis or maternally transmitted HIV disease.

Recap

Cancer, heart disease, and congenital conditions are the 4th through 6th leading causes of death in people 20-24. A healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, not smoking) may help prevent cancer and heart disease that's not congenital. Congenital conditions can't be prevented.

7

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is the cause for a little under 1% of deaths in this age group. Advances in treatment allow people with diabetes mellitus to live longer lives.

But it's still associated with a number of complications. Diabetes increases your risk of having heart attacks and strokes.

While there's no cure, a good diet, exercise, and medication can help you manage diabetes mellitus and prevent complications.

8

Pregnancy and Childbirth

About 0.7% of deaths among those aged 20-24 happen during pregnancy or during/after childbirth. Causes include:

  • Heart disease
  • Infection or sepsis
  • Hemorrhage
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia
  • Complications of anesthesia

You can reduce your risk by:

  • Preventing unwanted pregnancies
  • Getting proper medical care during pregnancy
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Staying active
9

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

Chronic lower respiratory disease accounts for 0.6% of deaths in this age group. These may include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Lung cancer

To reduce your risk of developing these diseases or developing fatal complications:

  • Don't smoke
  • Avoid second-hand smoke
  • Avoid environmental pollutants (dust, fumes, smoke)
  • Stay away from people with respiratory infections
  • Stick to your treatment regimen
10

Flu and Pneumonia

You may not think that the flu or pneumonia are very dangerous if you're in your early twenties. However, 0.6% of deaths in people 20 to 24 are attributable to these two illnesses.

You can prevent that by:

  • Getting a flu vaccine every year
  • Washing your hands regularly
  • If your immune system is compromised, asking your healthcare provider about extra precautions

Recap

Diabetes, pregnancy and childbirth, chronic lower respiratory disease, flu, and pneumonia round out the top ten causes of death for people 20-24.

Diabetes can't be prevented. Preventing unwanted pregnancy and getting medical care can help prevent pregnancy-related death. Don't smoke, get vaccinated, and wash your hands regularly to prevent infection-related death.

Top 10 Causes of Death, 20-24 Year Olds
CAUSE % PREVENTION
Accidents 45% Wear seat belt
Drive safely
Suicide 18% Therapy for mental health issues
Call suicide hotline
Homicide 15% Avoid dangerous situations
Get help for domestic violence
Cancer 4% Eat a healthy diet
Exercise
Don't smoke
Get medical help for symptoms
Heart disease 3% Eat a healthy diet
Exercise
Don't smoke
Congenital conditions <1% Can't be prevented
Managing disease can prevent deadly complications
Diabetes <1% Can't prevent diabetes
Managing disease can prevent deadly complications
Pregnancy/childbirth 0.7% Prevent unwanted pregnancy
Get proper medical care
Eat healthy, get rest, stay active
Chronic lower respiratory disease 0.6% Don't smoke
Avoid pollutants
Avoid sick people
Follow treatment regimen
Flu/pneumonia 0.6% Get yearly flu vaccine
Wash hands regularly

A Word From Verywell

Many potential causes of death are out of your control. However, by adopting a healthy lifestyle and practicing common-sense safety measures, you may be able to avoid most of them.

And even if you can't prevent a disease, you may be able to reduce your risk of fatal complications.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk of these causes of death and look for ways to lower the risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What type of cancers do young adults get?

    The most common types of cancer for people aged 20-39 include:

    • Breast cancer
    • Lymphomas (non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin)
    • Melanoma (a skin cancer)
    • Sarcomas (cancers of the bone, muscles, or certain other tissues)
    • Cervical and ovarian cancers
    • Thyroid cancer
    • Testicular cancer
    • Colorectal cancer
    • Brain and spinal cord tumors
  • What are the leading causes of death for teenagers?

    For teens 15 to 19, the leading causes of death are accidents, suicide, and homicide.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Safety Council. Car crash deaths and rates.

  3. Pew Research Center. What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S.

  4. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Cancer prevention overview (PDQ)-Patient version.

  5. World Health Organization. Diabetes.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnancy mortality surveillance system.

  7. Beth Israel Lahey Health, Winchester Hospital. Reducing your risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  8. American Cancer Society. Types of cancers that develop in young adults.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adolescent health.