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Leading underlying causes of death by sex

Coronary heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia, followed by dementia and Alzheimer disease, and cerebrovascular disease (which includes stroke). Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) make up the top 5 leading underlying causes of death in Australia in 2014, for males and females of all ages combined.

Figure 1 below shows the number of male and female deaths contributing to the top 5 causes. Males account for more deaths due to coronary heart disease, lung cancer and COPD. Females account for the majority of deaths due to cerebrovascular disease and dementia and Alzheimer disease. For more leading causes of death by sex see Table S1.

Figure 1: Leading underlying causes of death by sex, 2014

The bar chart shows that the leading underlying cause of death was coronary heart disease. 11,082 males died due to coronary heart disease compared to 9,091 females. The second leading underlying cause of death was dementia and Alzheimer disease, with 4,106 deaths among males and 7,859 deaths among females. Cerebrovascular disease was the third leading underlying cause, with 4,279 deaths among males and 6,486 deaths among females. The fourth leading underlying cause of death was lung cancer, with 4,947 deaths among males and 3,304 deaths among females, while the fifth leading underlying cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with 3,911 deaths among males and 3,114 deaths among females.

Note: See Classifying causes of death for more details on cause of death groups used. For each cause of death, International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th revision (ICD-10) codes are presented in parentheses.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S1).

Leading underlying causes of death by age

The leading underlying causes of death are different at different ages. In general, chronic disease causes of death feature more prominently among people aged 45 and over while the leading causes of death among people aged 1–44 are external causes such as land transport accidents and suicides.

Coronary heart disease is the most common underlying cause of death in Australia for people aged 45 and over, followed by dementia and Alzheimer disease, cerebrovascular disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Suicide was the leading underlying cause of deaths among persons aged 25–44 (20% of deaths) and persons aged 15–24 (31% of deaths). Land transport accidents were the most common underlying cause of death among persons aged 1–14 (13% of deaths).

Among infants, certain conditions originating in the perinatal period and congenital conditions were responsible for most deaths (75% of deaths). Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) was the third leading cause of death among infants, accounting for 5% of infant deaths.

See more on Premature mortality in Australia.

Figure 2: Leading underlying causes of death in Australia by age group, 2012–2014

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Age < 1
Infant/congenital
Perinatal & congenital
Other
Ill-defined
Infant/congenital
SIDS
Injury
Accidental threats to breathing
Other
Selected metabolic disorders
Age
1–14
Injury
Land transport accidents
Infant/congenital
Perinatal & congenital
Cancer
Brain cancer
Injury
Accidental drowning & submersion
Other
Cerebral palsy & related
Age
15–24
Injury
Suicide
Injury
Land transport accidents
Injury
Accidental poisoning
Injury
Assault
Injury
Event of undetermined intent
Age
25–44
Injury
Suicide
Injury
Accidental poisoning
Injury
Land transport accidents
Cardiovascular
Coronary heart disease
Other
Liver disease
Age
45–64
Cardiovascular
Coronary heart disease
Cancer
Lung cancer
Cancer
Breast cancer
Injury
Suicide
Cancer
Colorectal cancer
Age
65–74
Cancer
Lung cancer
Cardiovascular
Coronary heart disease
Respiratory
COPD
Cardiovascular
Cerebrovascular disease
Cancer
Colorectal cancer
Age
75–84
Cardiovascular
Coronary heart disease
Cardiovascular
Cerebrovascular disease
Mental/neurological
Dementia & Alzheimer disease
Cancer
Lung cancer
Respiratory
COPD
Age
85–94
Cardiovascular
Coronary heart disease
Mental/neurological
Dementia & Alzheimer disease
Cardiovascular
Cerebrovascular disease
Respiratory
COPD
Cardiovascular
Heart failure
Age 95+
Circulatory
Coronary heart disease
Mental/neurological
Dementia & Alzheimer disease
Cardiovascular
Cerebrovascular disease
Cardiovascular
Heart failure
Respiratory
Influenza & pneumonia

Note: See Classifying causes of death for more details on cause of death groups used. ‘Other ill-defined causes’ include the following codes: Symptoms, signs and abnormal clinical and laboratory findings, not elsewhere classified (ICD-10 codes R00–R99 excluding R95: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)); Cardiac arrest, unspecified (I46.9); Respiratory failure of newborn (P28.5); Other unspecified convulsions (R56.8). SIDS refers to sudden infant death syndrome. COPD refers to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. AIHW General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM) books are available for selected leading causes of death.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S2).

Classifying causes of death

Leading underlying causes of death are determined by grouping highly specific causes of death and counting the number of deaths assigned to each cause group. Over 14,000 specific causes of illness, injury and death are presented in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (ICD-10). These causes can be grouped in a way that is meaningful for public health purposes.

A common grouping is by ICD chapters which are broad categories arranged according to the type of disease, the body system affected by the disease or the circumstances causing death. Each chapter is further divided into blocks of related diseases. Australian cause of death data by ICD-10 chapters and selected causes of death are published in the AIHW General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM) books.

For leading underlying cause of death analysis, however, information needs to be more specific than ICD chapters and blocks. There is no standard method for grouping causes, however, the AIHW follows the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) (Becker et al. 2006) with minor modifications to suit the Australian context. This grouping is a mix of ICD chapters, blocks and specific diseases to maximise information, separate out ill-defined causes and highlight health priority areas.

The leading underlying causes of death presented here are classified using the AIHW-modified version of Becker et al. 2006.

Further information

AIHW GRIM (General Record of Incidence of Mortality) books.

Becker R, Silvi J, Ma Fat D, L'Hours A, Laurenti R. 2006. A method for deriving leading causes of death. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 84:297–304.

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