Thousands of people could avoid an early death by making certain lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of the leading causes of death in the UK, says Medical Director for LetsGetChecked, Dr. Dominic Rowley. In fact, following a balanced and healthy diet, not smoking, exercising regularly and keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum could all play a part in reducing a persons risk of potentially life-threatening diseases such as heart disease and and stroke.

Among the most common causes of death in the UK:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Stroke
  4. Lung disease
  5. Liver disease

The Office for National Statistics in the UK has calculated that about 23% of all deaths are considered avoidable. In this article, Dr. Dominic Rowley will talk you through the top causes of death in the UK and how you can take preventative measures to improve your health.

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What are the top 5 causes of death in the UK?

#1 Heart disease

Among the top causes of death in the UK, heart disease and circulatory disease kill 170,000 deaths a year, or about 460 people a day. Heart disease occurs when plaque develops in the arteries and blood vessels that lead to the heart. This cuts off important nutrients and oxygen reaching your heart. Plaque is a substance made up of fatty molecules, cholesterol, and minerals.

Experts say most cases of premature death from heart disease are preventable. Having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, smoking, excessive alcohol drinking and physical inactivity are all significant risk factors.

Dr. Rowley says: "Young people do get heart attacks which are not widely known. If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, go to your doctor immediately."

Reduce your risk of heart disease:

  • Don’t smoke, if you are smoking, cut down and quit.
  • Follow a healthy diet, one that’s rich in plant-based foods.
  • Try to do more exercise. Exercise reduces your risk of heart attack by 30%.
  • Aim to get your BMI below 25, if you are struggling to lose weight your GP or practice nurse may be able to help you design a weight loss plan.
  • If you drink alcohol, avoid drinking more than 14 units a week (1 pint/glass of wine ~ 2 units of alcohol)

See also: What is Heart Disease: Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

#2 Cancer

According to Cancer Research UK, there are over 164,000 cancer deaths in the UK each year, which is about 450 each day. 1 in 2 people (in the UK) born after 1960 have been diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Bowel cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer account for almost two-thirds of all preventable cancer cases in the UK.

A healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee cancer prevention, but these tips can certainly help reduce your risk:

  • Don’t smoke: smoking is the largest cause of cancer in the UK
  • Eat healthily, maintain a healthy BMI and be physically active: overweight and obesity is the UK’s biggest cause of cancer after smoking
  • Protect yourself from the sun
  • Practice safe sex
  • Get regular cancer screenings

#3 Stroke

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off. A stroke can affect how you move, feel, and think. Anybody can have a stroke but some people are more at risk than others.

Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of stroke, these include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Diabetes

Dr. Rowley says "an important way to be aware of and reduce your risk of stroke is to find out if you have any of these conditions and work with your doctor to manage them."

Lifestyle factors

Lifestyle choices have a big impact on our risk of stroke. Things like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, and eating unhealthy foods can damage your blood vessels, increase your blood pressure, and make your blood more likely to clot.

See also: High Cholesterol: Symptoms and Side Effects

#4 Lung disease

Two of the most common lung diseases include asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

The UK has one of the highest rates of asthma cases in the world. Asthma UK estimates that over 5.4 million people suffer from asthma and an average of three people a day die from it. It is one of the leading causes of death in the UK.

Smoking is the main cause of COPD but a small number of cases are caused by long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust. The disease kills approximately 30,000 people a year. The UK mortality rate ranks third in Europe.

Reduce your risk of respiratory disease:

  • Don’t smoke, and if you do smoke, stop.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke or exposure to chemicals and fumes.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements to reduce your risk of severe asthma attacks

#5 Liver disease

Between the years 2000 and 2013, the number of deaths from liver disease among under 65s has increased by one-third.

The main causes of liver disease are obesity, heavy drinking, and undiagnosed infection.

Dr. Rowley says: "Being very aware of how much you drink is essential to good liver health."

Reduce your risk of liver disease with some lifestyle changes, including:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum

See also: What are the Symptoms of Liver Disease?

What is the number one cause of death in the UK?

According to the Office for National Statistics, the leading cause of death in the UK in 2018 was dementia and Alzheimer's - accounting for around 12.7% of deaths registered in the UK. There are two possible reasons why deaths as a result of this disease have increased over recent years, these include:

  • This disease tends to occur in older age groups
  • We have gained a better understanding of the disease making diagnosing and reporting less difficult

For males, the number of deaths as a result of ischaemic heart diseases and cerebrovascular disease has decreased, though ischaemic heart disease still remains one of the leading causes of death in males in the UK.

For females, in 2008, malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung accounted for just over 10% of deaths in females between 50-64 years. With that said, in 2011, both dementia and Alzheimer's became the leading cause of death in females.

How do coronavirus deaths compare to influenza and pneumonia deaths in the UK and Wales?

While the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing, and affecting each one of us worldwide, the Office for National Statistics have released statistics from the first 8 months of 2020. These statistics focus on deaths as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) in comparison to deaths caused by influenza and pneumonia.

The report notes that between January-August 2020:

  • 14,013 deaths were caused by pneumonia and influenza in the England and Wales
  • 48,168 deaths were caused by coronavirus in the England and Wales

According to Sarah Caul, the Head of Mortality Analysis in the Office for National Statistics; “The mortality rate for COVID-19 is also significantly higher than influenza and pneumonia rates for both 2020 and the five-year average."

In November 2020, coronavirus (COVID-19) was the leading cause of death in both England and Wales - accounting for around 18% of deaths in England during the month of November and 21.6% of all deaths in Wales, according to numbers from the Office for National Statistics.

What are the biggest health problems in the UK?

A child born today in the UK should expect to live a longer and healthier life than previous generations.


While the death rate in the UK may be decreasing, there are still concerns around the fact that the top 5 causes of death in the UK are completely avoidable.

Dr. Rowley says that "while there are more healthy living initiatives than ever before, there is still a huge number of people who continue to smoke, drink excessively, follow poor diets and have a sedentary lifestyle."

Today, in the UK, life expectancy is 82.3 years for men and 85.8 years for women however the age that people can expect to live healthily is 63.1 years for men and 63.7 years for women.

While healthcare spending has steadily increased, 26% of adults and 20% of children are still classified as obese, and 58% of brits have drank alcohol in the past week.

Today, the biggest health concern in the UK is dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

By 2020, dementia and Alzheimer's disease is likely to be the most common cause of death for both men and women.

Public Health England says: "Long-term improvements have been seen in the mortality rates from heart disease, stroke and most major cancers but the mortality rate from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease has increased steadily since 2006 for both sexes."

Public Health England report that while the population may be healthier at every age group than it ever has been before, long term health conditions are more and more common.

Dr. Rowley says: "We may not be able to control every aspect of our health, but we can always strive to educate ourselves more about our own bodies and specific health needs."

What are the leading causes of death globally?

The latest data shows that of 56.9 million deaths worldwide in 2016, more than half (54%) were due to the top 10 causes as documented by the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization reports that the top 10 causes of death worldwide include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
  • Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Accidents
  • Diarrhoeal diseases
  • Tuberculosis

Dr. Dominic Rowley says: "Prevention is better than a cure and that is why I so strongly advocate on-going health testing as a regular practice as opposed to a reaction to symptoms."

If you would like to know more about your health, you can take a trip to your doctor or test from home with an at-home lab test.

LetsGetChecked’s range of at-home health tests can help you know more about your health from the comfort of your own home. Online results will be available within 2-5 days and our dedicated medical team will be available to offer support and guidance along the way.

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