Leading cause of death in Australia

The leading cause of death in Australia is heart disease, but it might not be for much longer.


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Heart disease is still killing more Australians than any other disease, according to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) titled Causes of Death, Australia 2019.

However, with an ageing population, dementia is now the second most common cause of death in Australia, with deaths increasing by 66.8% since 2010. In females, dementia has already surpassed coronary heart disease as the number-one killer.

Top 10 causes of death in Australia

RankCause of death2019 number of deaths
1Heart diseases18,244
2Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease15,016
3Cerebrovascular diseases (Stroke)9,891
4Malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung (Lung and throat cancer)8,821
5Chronic lower respiratory diseases (chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma)8,372
6Malignant neoplasm of colon, sigmoid, rectum and anus (Colon, rectal cancer)5,410
8Malignant neoplasms of lymphoid, haematopoietic and related tissue (blood, bone marrow, lymphnode cancer)4,793
9Influenza and pneumonia4,124
10Diseases of the urinary system (urinary tract infection, kidney infection)3,903

Leading causes of death in Australia in detail

1. Heart disease

Ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. In 2019 there were 18,244 deaths due to heart disease, which accounted for 10.8% of all deaths in Australia. While it was the biggest killer in Australia, the age-standardised death rate from Ischaemic heart disease has fallen significantly in recent years: 34.6% since 2010.

2. Dementia

Dementia was the second largest cause of death in Australia in 2019. In total, 15,016 died from dementia (including Alzheimer's disease). Unlike Ischaemic heart disease though — the leading cause of death in Australia — which has seen a steady decline in deaths over the past decade, deaths due to dementia have increased by 66.8% since 2010. If the current trend continues, dementia will soon take over heart disease as the leading cause of death in Australia.

3. Cerebrovascular diseases (Stroke)

Cerebrovascular diseases refer to conditions that lead to damage to the brain due to the interruption of its blood supply, the most common of which is a stroke. In 2019, 9,891 people died from cerebrovascular diseases. However, deaths from the diseases decreased by 11.7% since 2010.

4. Lung and throat cancer

Malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung was the 4th leading cause of death in Australia, accounting for 8,821 deaths, most of which were men (5,2190), making it the deadliest cancer in Australia. Among Australian men, it was the third most common cause of death (fifth among women). It also killed people younger than other leading causes of death — the median age of death due to lung and throat cancer in 2019 was 74.3.

5. Chronic lower respiratory diseases

Chronic lower respiratory diseases like bronchitis, emphysema and asthma killed 8,372 people in Australia in 2019, 2,243 more than 2010 - that's a 36.6% increase. These top five leading causes of death accounted for more than one-third (35.7 per cent) of all registered deaths.

6. Colon, rectal cancer

The median age of death due to Malignant neoplasm of colon, sigmoid, rectum and anus like colon and rectal cancer was 77.6 years old. Death rates increased slightly since 2010 — 5,247 compared to 5,410 in 2019 — so it's still among the leading causes of death and 2nd most common cancer in Australia.

7. Diabetes

Complications and illnesses due to diabetes (Type 1 and 2) killed 4,967 Australians in 2019. While the disease is among the top 10 causes of deaths in Australia, it's the 3rd leading cause of death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, an important factor in contributing towards the low median age at death: 60.9 years old.

8. Blood, bone marrow, lymph node cancer

Australians are well aware of how dangerous these types of cancer can be — in 2019, it killed 4,793. More men died (2,783) due to the cancer than women (2,010) in 2019. It wasn't among the top 10 causes of death among women.

9. Influenza and pneumonia

Influenza and pneumonia was the 9th leading cause of death in Australia in 2019, reportedly killing 4,124 people. According to the ABS though, influenza deaths have a strong link to the severity of flu seasons which is the main factor in determining how deadly it is each year.

10.Diseases of the urinary system (urinary tract infection, kidney infection)

It may surprise you to find that diseases of the urinary system accounted for 3,903 in Australia in 2019. This is up from 3,315 in 2010.

Death statistics among males and females

Leading cause of death in women Leading cause of death in men

  • Dementia: 9592 deaths in 2019
  • Heart Disease: 10,822 deaths in 2019

In females, dementia has already surpassed coronary heart disease as the number-one cause of death, responsible for 9,592 lost lives. According to the latest statistics by ABS, significantly less men died as a result of dementia — there were 5,424 deaths in 2019.

However, men are much more likely to die from coronary heart disease and lung cancer, the former of which accounted for 10,822 male deaths and 7,422 female deaths.

Breast cancer was the 6th leading cause among females, accounting for 3,230 deaths and Prostate cancer was the 6th ranked cause of death for males, accounting for 3,611 deaths.

For external causes such as accidental, assaults and suicide, suicide was ranked 10th for men and accidental falls were the highest ranked for females (13th), with the lowest median age at death at 43.9. In total, there were 3,318 registered suicides in Australia. Of these, 2,502 were male and 816 were female. 195 were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

As for deaths outside of the top five, males are much more likely to die from self-harm like suicide. In fact 75% of all deaths due to self-harm occur in males. In females it's hypertension that affects them disproportionately, with 63% of all deaths due to hypertension occurring in females.

Top causes of death in Australia over time

Although coronary heart disease has been the top cause of death for quite a while, dementia is poised to take over that top spot in the coming years. The ABS says that over the last decade, deaths from coronary heart disease have been on the decline while deaths from dementia have been rising dramatically:

What are the odds of dying?

According to 2017 data from the General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM), the average Australian is living longer than ever before. However, age and gender still have a big impact on your odds of dying. Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • Most (27.12%) Australian men and women die when they are 85 and older.
  • There's a 17.12% higher chance that you will die when you're 85 and older compared to the ages of 80 and 84 - a year-on-year increase, showing that more of us are living longer.
  • At every age, men are more likely to die younger.
  • In many younger age groups, men are 50% more likely to die than women.

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