Top 10 Causes of Death for Americans Ages 20 to 24

Common causes of death in people age 20 to 24 in the United States include congenital (present at birth) health issues, accidents, and illnesses.

This article will go over the top 10 causes of death for young adults in the United States in 2019, offer tips for how to prevent those that are preventable, and manage those that are not.


Unintentional Injuries

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional injuries accounted for 42% of deaths among people aged 20 to 24 years old in 2019.

Most of these deaths were caused by poisonings related to certain drugs, including narcotics and hallucinogens.

Drug poisoning can happen by accident, which is why properly storing and discarding medications is important.

However, some people who die from being exposed to these drugs have a substance use disorder. They may die from an overdose or from complications that happen when more than one substance is used at the same time.

In some cases, a person dies after using a substance that they didn’t realize had been mixed or “laced” with something else.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Motor vehicle accidents also accounted for many accidental deaths, as they have in previous years. The good news is that the motor vehicle death rate has been going down because cars are getting safer.

To protect yourself, wear your seat belt, drive defensively, and avoid risky behaviors (like driving while texting) when you’re behind the wheel.



Suicide was the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 20 and 24 in 2019.

A person of any age can have suicidal thoughts, but there is a rising mental health crisis among youth in the U.S.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.



Homicide, or murder, was responsible for 18.1% of deaths in this age group in 2019, accounting for 14.8% of deaths. Most of these homicides were committed with firearms.

Gun violence can be hard to avoid, as you don’t necessarily have control over where you live.

Reaching out for help if you’re experiencing domestic violence or if you are at risk of neighborhood gun violence are key steps that you can take.

If you have firearms in your home, it’s important that they are kept safely—particularly if you have children.



Cancer (malignant neoplasms) caused about 4.1 % of deaths in the 20 to 24 age group in 2019. Many childhood cancers were included in that number.

You can’t always prevent cancer from happening. That’s why it’s important that you know the early signs and symptoms of cancer.

You should also know your personal cancer risk, which is based on your family history, lifestyle, and other factors.

There’s no single way to prevent cancer, but there are some general steps that you can take to support your overall health, such as:

  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Staying physically active
  • Managing stress
  • Protecting your skin from the sun
  • Getting regular cancer screenings as recommended
  • Not smoking or using tobacco (or quitting if you do)

You can talk to your provider about specific steps you can take to lower your risk for cancer.


Heart Disease

In 2019, about 3% of deaths in people 20 to 24 were from heart disease.

Many young people who have heart disease were born with it (congenital heart disease). In this case, there wasn’t anything they could have done to keep it from happening.

However, heart disease can also happen later in life—especially for people who have certain risk factors. You can take steps to lower your risk of heart disease at any age by:


Congenital Malformations and Chromosomal Abnormalities

Congenital conditions (also called anomalies) are those that people are born with. In 2019, these conditions accounted for 1 % of deaths among people ages 20 to 24.

One example of this type of condition is cystic fibrosis.

Since these conditions happen before a person is born, people who are pregnant can be screened to find out if a fetus is at risk for certain conditions.

For someone living with a congenital condition, preventing complications comes down to learning how to manage the condition and having a team of providers that they can work with.


Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes caused about 1% of deaths among people ages 20 to 24 in 2019.

People with diabetes live longer now than they used to because of advances in how the disease is treated. However, it can still cause complications.

For example, having diabetes increases your risk of having heart attacks and strokes.

People who have type 1 diabetes (type 1) could not have prevented it, but they can take steps to avoid complications—including death.

For example, managing the condition by making sure they have the insulin they need to survive and making any lifestyle changes necessary to stay healthy.

People with type 2 diabetes can also manage the condition through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication.

In many cases, the condition can be prevented by taking certain steps. Some of these steps can also reverse type 2 diabetes.

You might be able to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes or reverse it by:


Pregnancy and Childbirth

About 0.6% of deaths among people ages 20-24 occurred during pregnancy or during/after childbirth.

There are several reasons that people can die during pregnancy or while giving birth, including:

You can’t always control whether these complications happen to you. However, there are some general steps that you can take to lower the chances that they’ll happen, such as:

  • Getting routine medical care during your pregnancy
  • Eating a nutritious diet with plenty of nutrients needed for fetal development (for example, folic acid) and taking supplements, if necessary
  • Exercising in ways that are comfortable and safe for you
  • Getting plenty of good quality sleep
  • Staying up to date on your vaccinations, including the annual flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines/boosters
  • Knowing the signs and symptoms of complications (such as unusual bleeding or high blood pressure) and contacting your provider right away if you feel unwell

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

In 2019, chronic lower respiratory disease accounted for about 0.6% of deaths among people between the ages of 20 and 24.

Examples of these conditions include:

There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing these conditions and prevent complications from them, such as:

  • Not smoking, quitting if you do use tobacco, and avoiding second-hand smoke
  • Avoiding environmental pollutants (e.g., dust, fumes, smoke)
  • Staying away from people with respiratory infections
  • Following your prescribed treatment plan

Influenza and Pneumonia

According to the National Vital Statistic report for 2019, the flu and pneumonia accounted for 0.5% of deaths in people aged 20-24.

Getting a flu vaccine is the most effective way to prepare yourself for flu season. Other steps you can take include:

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

Pneumonia is an infection in your lungs that inflames the air sacs, sometimes filling them with fluid or pus. It can be caused by a number of different organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, as well as by aspirating (inhaling) a foreign object.

Vaccines help prevent pneumonia by boosting your immunity against some of the common bacteria and viruses that cause illness. Some of the vaccines that can help prevent pneumonia include:

Top 10 Causes of Death, 20-24 Year Olds
Unintentional Injuries 42% Avoid illicit drugs, wear a seat belt, drive safely
Suicide 19% Seek mental health support
Homicide 15% Reach out for help if in a dangerous situation; keep guns at home safely locked up.
Cancer 4% Know your family history/genetic risk, make lifestyle changes to reduce risk, get screenings
Heart disease 3% Follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check, exercise
Congenital Conditions 1% Cannot be prevented but can be managed; if pregnant, get screened for genetic conditions if recommended
Diabetes 1% Make lifestyle changes, manage your weight, take medications as prescribed
Pregnancy and Childbirth 0.6% Get routine prenatal care, know the signs of possible complications, get adequate nutrition/supplements if needed
Chronic Respiratory Disease 0.6% Get a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines/boosters; follow your treatment plan; avoid tobacco; stay away from people who are sick.
Influenza and Pneumonia 0.5% Get an annual flu shot


Many potential causes of death at any age are out of your control. However, by adopting a healthy lifestyle and practicing safety measures, many of them can be prevented.

Even if you can’t prevent a disease, you often can reduce your risk of complications from it—including death. Talk to your provider about your risks and work together on lowering them.

Frequently Asked Questions

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.
  1. National Vital Statistics Report. Deaths: Leading causes for 2019.

  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 Cancer Institute. Cancer prevention overview (PDQ)-Patient version.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. 10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, United States – 2020

  6. World Health Organization. Diabetes.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (flu). Preventive steps.

  8. Berical AC, Harris D, Dela Cruz CS, Possick JD. Pneumococcal vaccination strategies. An update and perspectiveAnn Am Thorac Soc. 2016;13(6):933-944. doi:10.1513/AnnalsATS.201511-778FR

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

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.