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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 diseases (which includes stroke). Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) make up the top 5 leading underlying causes of death in Australia in 2013, 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, 2013

Image shows the number of male and female deaths contributing to the top 5 underlying causes of death (coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, dementia and alzheimer disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease-COPD).

Note: Leading causes of death are based on underlying causes of death and classified using an AIHW-modified version of Becker et al. 2006. 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 years and over while the leading causes of death among 1–44 year olds 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 over age 45, followed by cerebrovascular disease, cancers, dementia and Alzheimer disease and respiratory conditions.

Suicide was the leading underlying cause of death among persons aged 15–44, and land transport accidents were the leading cause among people aged 1–14.

Land transport accidents were responsible for 14% of deaths among persons aged 1–14, and 23% of deaths among persons aged 15–24, and suicide was the underlying cause of 18% of deaths among persons age 25–44 and 28% of deaths among those aged 15–24.

Among infants, certain conditions originating in the perinatal period and congenital conditions were responsible for most deaths (76%). This was followed by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accounting for 6% of infant deaths. 

See more on Premature mortality in Australia. 

Figure 2: Leading underlying causes of death in Australia by age group, 2011–2013
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Age < 1
Other
Perinatal & congenital
Other
SIDS
Other
Ill–defined causes
External
Accidental threats to breathing
Other
Selected metabolic disorders
Age
1–14
External
Land transport accidents
Other
Perinatal & congenital
Cancer
Brain cancer
External
Accidental poisoning
Other
Cerebral palsy & related
Age
15–24
External
Suicide
External
Land transport accidents
External
Accidental poisoning
External
Assault
External
Event of undetermined intent
Age
25–44
External
Suicide
External
Accidental poisoning
External
Land transport accidents
Circulatory
Coronary heart disease
Cancer
Breast cancer
Age
45–64
Circulatory
Coronary heart disease
Cancer
Lung cancer
Cancer
Breast cancer
Cancer
Colorectal cancer
External
Suicide
Age
65–74
Circulatory
Coronary heart disease
Cancer
Lung cancer
Respiratory
COPD
Circulatory
Cerebrovascular disease
Cancer
Colorectal cancer
Age
75–84
Circulatory
Coronary heart disease
Circulatory
Cerebrovascular disease
Other
Dementia & Alzheimer disease
Cancer
Lung cancer
Respiratory
COPD
Age
85–94
Circulatory
Coronary heart disease
Other
Dementia & Alzheimer disease
Circulatory
Cerebrovascular disease
Respiratory
COPD
Circulatory
Heart failure
Age 95+
Circulatory
Coronary heart disease
Other
Dementia & Alzheimer disease
Circulatory
Cerebrovascular disease
Circulatory
Heart failure
Respiratory
Influenza & pneumonia

Note: Leading causes of death are based on underlying causes of death and classified using an AIHW-modified version of Becker et al. 2006. 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 disease 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 specific causes are often 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.

Source data