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Leading cause of death in Australia

The leading cause of death in Australia is heart-related, but it differs between men and women.


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Coronary 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 2017.

The top 5 most deadly diseases in Australia are:

  1. Coronary heart disease
  2. Dementia
  3. Cerebrovascular diseases such as strokes
  4. Lung cancer
  5. Chronic lower respiratory diseases like pneumonia and bronchitis

Both men and women are affected by these illnesses. However, there have been some significant changes in the leading causes of death by sex in recent years. This is according to the most recent data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Top 20 leading causes of death for males and females

MalesNumber of deaths% of deathsFemalesNumber of deaths% of deaths
Coronary heart disease10,51413%Dementia8,85911%
Lung cancer4,9116%Coronary heart disease8,07610%
Dementia4,8706%Cerebrovascular diseases5,8848%
Cerebrovascular diseases4,3025%Chronic lower respiratory diseases4,0895%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases4,2685%Lung cancer3,3514%
Prostate cancer3,2754%Breast cancer2,8984%
Bowel cancer2,8623%Bowel cancer2,4633%
Lymph cancer2,6603%Flu and pneumonia2,3263%
Self-harm2,3483%Urinary disease1,9583%
Flu and pneumonia1,9432%General heart failure1,9052%
Urinary disease1,6072%Lymph cancer1,8392%
General heart failure1,5822%Accidental falls1,4692%
Pancreatic cancer1,5662%Hypertension1,4672%
Accidental falls1,3132%Heart arrhythmias1,4602%
Skin cancer1,3032%Pancreatic cancer1,4302%
Liver disease1,2952%Ovarian cancer9901%
Liver cancer1,2411%Signs and symptoms of ill-defined conditions9261%
Parkinson's disease1,1421%Aortic valve disease9181%
Signs and symptoms of ill-defined conditions1,0121%Musculoskeletal disease9111%
Top 20 diseases56,59768% Top 20 diseases55,47571%
All other diseases26,26132%All other diseases22,57629%

Males and females

In females, dementia has already surpassed coronary heart disease as the number-one killer. Females are more likely than males to die from dementia and cerebrovascular diseases like stroke, whereas males are more likely to die from coronary heart disease and lung cancer.

As for diseases 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.

Then you have the diseases commonly associated with (but not exclusively limited to) a specific gender, like prostate cancer accounting for 4% of male deaths and breast cancer accounting for 4% of female deaths.

Other diseases that commonly lead to death in both males and females are diabetes, pancreatic cancer, flu/pneumonia and accidental falls.

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It tracked hundreds of diseases and found that more than one-third of Australian deaths in 2017 can be traced back to these five conditions:

  1. Coronary heart disease
  2. Dementia (eg Alzheimer's)
  3. Cerebrovascular diseases (eg stroke)
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (eg bronchitis, emphysema and asthma)
  5. Lung cancer

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:

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