Leading causes of death

Leading underlying causes of death by sex

Figure 3.1 below shows the number of male and female deaths contributing to the top 5 causes. The leading cause of death for males was coronary heart disease, accounting for 10,448 (12%) deaths. Dementia including Alzheimer disease was the leading cause of death for females, accounting for 9,522 (12%) deaths, followed by coronary heart disease (7,283; 9% of deaths). 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 2019, for males and females of all ages combined. For more leading causes of death by sex see Table S3.1.

Figure 3.1: Leading underlying causes of death, by sex, 2019

This figure presents two sets of horizontal bars that share the vertical axis. The horizontal bars show the number of deaths for males and females by the top 5 leading causes of death in 2019. The horizontal bars to the left of the vertical axis represents the number of deaths for males by causes of death while those to the right represent the number of deaths for females by causes of death.
In both males and females, the leading causes of death were coronary heart disease, dementia including Alzheimer disease, cerebrovascular disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, albeit with different rankings for each sex.

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

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S3.1).

Leading underlying causes of death by age

As well as differences by sex, the leading causes of death also vary by age. Chronic diseases 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 accidents and suicides (Figure 3.2).

Among infants, perinatal and congenital conditions caused the most (80%) deaths.

Land transport accidents were the most common cause of death among children aged 1–14 (12%). Suicide was the leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (37%), followed by land transport accidents (20%). For people aged 25–44, it was also suicide (23%), followed by accidental poisoning (13%).

Coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death for people aged 45–64 and people aged 75–84. For people aged 65–74, the leading cause of death was lung cancer followed by coronary heart disease, and for people aged 85 and over, it was dementia including Alzheimer disease, followed by coronary heart disease.

Figure 3.2: Leading causes of death, by age group, 2017–2019

Notes:

  1. ‘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)); Respiratory failure of newborn (P28.5); Respiratory failure, unspecified (J96.9). AIHW General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM) books are available for selected leading causes of death.
  2. There were no suicide deaths in children under 5. The number of deaths of children attributed to suicide can be influenced by coronial reporting practices, see ABS 3303.0 – Causes of Death, Australia, 2011 (Explanatory Notes 92–95) for further information.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S3.2).

Classifying causes of death

Leading underlying causes of death are determined by grouping 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, 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 an AIHW-modified version of Becker et al.

Reference

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.