The top 10 causes of death in India

Hindustan Times | By
Sep 30, 2017 10:04 PM IST

You’re more likely to die of a stroke than a plane crash. But several fatal conditions on this list can be prevented and cured.

Do you worry about your airplane crashing each time you take a flight? Don’t be. There a one in a 1,000,000 chance of a traveller being harmed in an aircraft. Your risk of being harmed during medical treatment is one in 300, which has prodded India’s Health Ministry to invite comments for .

India’s leading causes of death include diseases such as tuberculosis and respiratory problems, which can be easily cured with medication.
India’s leading causes of death include diseases such as tuberculosis and respiratory problems, which can be easily cured with medication.

Most of us have misplaced anxieties and fears about is most likely to kill us, but those who fear heart disease have got it right, shows data for India from The Global Burden of Disease Study for 2016 , which is an observational epidemiological study of risk to health and life from diseases, injuries and risk factors, such as bad diets, tobacco use and high blood pressure. Unhealthy diets alone are a risk factor in one in five global deaths, raising the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, among others.

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The Institute for Health Metric and Evaluation at the University of Washington uses GDB 2016 data to list the top causes of deaths in India.

1.Heart disease

Heart disease has remained the leading cause of death In India for more than two decades fuelled by unhealthy diets leading to high blood pressure and the buildup up blood fats (plaque) inside the walls of the arteries, inactivity, obesity and smoking.

2.Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including pulmonary hypertension, occupational lung disease, and interstitial lung disease, cause irreversible damage the airways and other lung structures to lower breathing capacity. Lung diseases are not curable, but can be managed using treatments that dilate major air passages and improve shortness of breath. Smoking, air pollution, occupational chemicals, dust and frequent lower respiratory infections aggravate lung conditions.


Diarrhoeal dieases are one of the biggest causes of under-5 deaths, killing between 800,000 and one million children, hospitalising 900,000 and causing 327,000 visits to clinics each year. Adding Rotavirus vaccine to India’s universal vaccination programme in 2016 to protect children against the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in young children, helped lower numbers rapidly.


Stroke, which was ranked as the sixth biggest cause of death in 2005, rose to become the fourth biggest killer in India. The risk factors for stroke, which is also known as cerebrovascular disease, are the same as heart disease, but the disability caused by a brain attack is often higher as it may cause partial or full paralysis

5. Lower respiratory infections

With improved diagnosis and infection management, lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, lung abscess and acute bronchitis have slipped one position down to become the fifth biggest cause of death. It’s among the most common infection in older adults and people with lowered immunity from other infections, such as seasonal influenza. Symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, fever, coughing and fatigue that persist for more than a week must be investigated.

6. Tuberculosis

India accounts for 2.8 million of the 10.4 million new tuberculosis (TB) cases globally, according to the World Health Organization’s Global TB Report 2016. India’s national programme provides free medicines and treatment to all but many patients do not complete the full course of medicine, which must be taken for six to eight months for uncomplicated disease. This leads to drug resistant infection, which takes longer to treat using more toxic and expensive medicines.

7. Neonatal preterm birth

With 80.8% of India’s 226 lakh annual births taking place in hospitals, health centres and clinics, deaths from premature birth-related complications such as low birth-weight have dropped since 2005, when it was the fourth cause of death.

8. Self harm

Ranked the 10th cause of death in 2005, self harm or suicide is now India’s eighth biggest killer. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has recorded a corresponding increase of 17.3%, 1,33,623 in 2015, up from 1,13,914 in 2005, in suicides over the past two decades decade.

9. Road injuries

Death from traffic accidents rose three points over two decades. Road accidents rose by 3.1% in one year, from 4,50,898 in 2014 to 4,64,674 in 2015 – with deaths going up by 5.1%, from 1,41,526 to 1,48,707 during the same period, shows NCRB data. States that show the sharpest increase were Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

10. Other neonatal conditions

Breastfeeding, vaccination against common infection and neonatal care is helping more babies thrive and survive neonatal infections such as septicaemia, birth asphyxia and birth trauma.

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    Sanchita is the health & science editor of the Hindustan Times. She has been reporting and writing on public health policy, health and nutrition for close to two decades. She is an International Reporting Project fellow from Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and was part of the expert group that drafted the Press Council of India’s media guidelines on health reporting, including reporting on people living with HIV.

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