Given the obvious importance for global health, I've found it easy to track down lists from Google of the top lifestyle related causes of death (like heart disease, lung cancer etc), but as a consequence it proven difficult to find a source of the opposite, the leading causes of death which have no (or very little) relation to lifestyle choices (like smoking, obesity etc).

What I'm interested in is those chronic and generally quite fatal disease which just happen for either genetic or spontaneous reasons, or perhaps due to environmental causes which are so ubiquitous as to be unavoidable.

I'm not looking for an exhaustive, or even very large list, the top five to ten would do, and I understand that there's no clear distinction between lifestyle and genetic factors, but obviously health organisations make some estimate of what is mainly the cause otherwise lists like these would not be possible. I just want the opposite list.

To clarify in the light of some answers, I'm looking for diseases which one might contract in adulthood (this could include pathogens) which could in a normal healthy person living within reach of modern medicine still present a more than 50% chance of being fatal. Basically I'm after a risk figure (my field of research) which would act as a baseline presuming a safe, healthy life.

  • $\begingroup$ Getting impaled by a giant metal rod might leave you pretty deadish $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2017 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ Fair point, have edited the title to specify diseases. Mind you standing precariously above sharpened metal rods might well be considered a lifestyle choice. $\endgroup$
    – Pseudonym
    Jan 26, 2017 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ I think it's somewhat fallacious to equate all heart disease to lifestyle choices. The heart of someone living a very healthful life will eventually give out. Cancer is not always caused by something we've done. So there's plenty of overlap. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2017 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse I quite carefully did not relate all heart disease to lifestyle choices but put it (quite uncontroversially) in a list of diseases which are "related" to lifestyle and then go on to specify that I'm interested in differentiating disease by what is "mainly the cause". Having already specified in the question that "I understand that there's no clear distinction between lifestyle and genetic factors" I'm not sure what to make of your contribution that "there's plenty of overlap". $\endgroup$
    – Pseudonym
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


So the CDC has a list of total leading causes of death


Number of deaths for leading causes of death
• Heart disease: 614,348
• Cancer: 591,699
• Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 147,101
• Accidents (unintentional injuries): 136,053
• Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 133,103
• Alzheimer's disease: 93,541
• Diabetes: 76,488
• Influenza and pneumonia: 55,227
• Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,146
• Intentional self-harm (suicide): 42,773

Cancers can be further subdivided into types which may or may not be related to lifestyle. There are lung cancers and skin cancers that are not linked to smoking or skin damage respectively. Cancer is very complicated.

Most of the causes on this list have lifestyle or environmental components to them. Influenza and pneumonia have less to do with lifestyle and more to do with the immune system either being too robust or not robust enough but the immune system is influenced by lifestyle as well.

To get a list of diseases that are the leading causes of death and not influenced by lifestyle or environmental, you'd probably be looking at genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis for example.

The WHO has a list of these monogenetic diseases. These are diseases that are caused by a single gene (either one or two copies of the gene depending on the disease) and are independent of lifestyle and environment.

Sickle cell anemia
Cystic Fibrosis
Tay sachs disease
Fragile X syndrome
Huntington's disease

You can read more about these diseases here: http://www.who.int/genomics/public/geneticdiseases/en/index2.html

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that's something like what I was looking for although I failed to specify in my question (my mistake) that I'm looking for causes of death which would not be apparent within early childhood, something which could just happen and you'd have no way of reasonably avoiding it. $\endgroup$
    – Pseudonym
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ If the main goal is trying to avoid death, then living a healthy lifestyle, going to the doctor for checkups and getting blood work done regularly are your best bets to identify diseases early on and hopefully prolong your life. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2017 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ I'd think even influenza &c could be said to be lifestyle-related. After all, you catch them from other people, so if your lifestyle is such that you spend a lot of time in crowded places, you're probably more likely to get them than if you're a hermit living in the wilderness. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 26, 2017 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ As I've specified in my edits I'm not looking for medical advice, I'm a statistician, my interest is in risk perception, I'm trying to establish systems for communicating risk that are more accurate than Lifetime Risk (which gives the misleading impression that your risk would be zero if you avoided whatever factor is being discussed) but more meaningful than Odds Ratios which most laymen cannot relate to. I have access to mortality statistics, but in order to extrapolate the data I need to know which causes of death would give the best indication of a "random, unavoidable" cause. $\endgroup$
    – Pseudonym
    Jan 27, 2017 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'm getting the distinct feeling that the information I need is tantalisingly there but not being specified, you mention in your previous comment "living a healthy lifestyle, going to the doctor for checkups". If the only diseases not influenced by lifestyle are monogenetic ones then what are you going to the doctor's regularly to get check for? This is exactly what I'm asking, you seem confident that a person leading a healthy lifestyle should still visit the doctor regularly for check ups. If you could just list the things a healthy person might need checking for, that would be my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Pseudonym
    Jan 27, 2017 at 10:25

This is a list of the top ten most common genetic diseases.
This is a link to a list of the 'worst' genetic diseases
This is a link to some fatal genetic diseases

I hope that helps, I think genetic diseases are the only ones that would not be considered a lifestyle disease. Other diseases would be caused by a pathogen; I have never heard of one arising spontaneously (although I could be wrong about that).

  • $\begingroup$ The OP asked for causes of death. Some on your list are not fatal. Also, diseases arise spontaneously all the time that are unrelated to lifestyle. Many cancers come to mind. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2017 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse Could you perhaps list some of the many cancers that come to mind or point me to a reliable source. This would be pretty much what I'm looking for, but whilst it's easy to find a list of cancers broadly related to lifestyle (lung, skin, colon etc) I've found it harder to get a list of ones which really aren't. $\endgroup$
    – Pseudonym
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Pseudonym - That's a matter of taking all cancers and subtracting those that are influenced/caused by lifestyle. Too many to list. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2017 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse I presume from your comment that you personally cannot supply me with an answer, but for the sake of any other experts potentially willing to help, l'm only asking for the top few, not the entire list, just ten of the highest risk cancers that are not strongly connected to lifestyle factors would do, even one would be a good start. $\endgroup$
    – Pseudonym
    Jan 27, 2017 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Pseudonym - I can supply you with an answer, but believe in the value of working to get what you want (seriously. I didn't become a physician by asking other doctors for help all the time.) I gave you a formula to find the answer: google the top, say, 10 cancers and delete those with known lifestyle causes.) $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2017 at 15:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.