How Australians die

Can you guess the top five causes of death in Australia? Write it down, quiz your family, and then read to discover how Australians die.

1. Heart disease and stroke
Heart disease and diseases of the vascular system, including stroke, are not only the number one cause of death in Australia, they are also the leading cause of death in the world. There are different kinds of heart diseases, but the main one is coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease affects the supply of blood to the heart muscle itself, which can then lead to a heart attack. Coronary heart disease is almost always caused by atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of cholesterol in the arteries. In 2014, coronary heart disease killed over 20,000 people in Australia.

2. Cancers
There are around 200 different types of cancers and, of those, seven are listed in the top 20 causes of death in Australia. Together, they are the number two reason of death for Australians. These seven types of cancer are: lung, blood, lymph, bowel, prostate, breast, pancreas and skin. While lung cancer is currently the cancer with the highest death rate, Australia continues to lead the world when it comes to reducing smoking rates. Because of this, less than 13 per cent of Australian adults now smoke and, in the future, lung-cancer deaths are expected to drop.

3. Dementia
Dementia itself is not a deadly disease. However, those with dementia usually experience health deterioration over a long period of time. Often death occurs as a result of complications with another illness, such as a respiratory infection. In these cases, the underlying cause of death is registered as dementia. Dementia was the cause of death for nearly 12,000 Australians in 2014. As the Australian population ages, the number of dementia-related deaths is expected to rise.

4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases
This category is a little less clearly defined, as it is made up of a group of conditions that all affect the lungs. The three main conditions are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and bronchiectasis, which is the medical term for permanent damage to the airways. Lungs contain millions of tiny little air sacks, called alveoli. The alveoli are the part of the lungs that absorb oxygen. These diseases damage the alveoli, which means the body absorbs less oxygen. This in turn can cause shortness of breath. Many people with COPD will actually die of heart disease, so it is possible death brought on by COPD is still underreported. The main risk factor for COPD is smoking.

5. Diabetes
While other major causes of death in Australia may be falling, instances of diabetes are rising sharply. Thirty years ago, about a quarter-of-a-million Australians suffered from diabetes. Today, there are about 2 million sufferers. Diabetes is a leading cause of heart attack, stroke, amputation, kidney failure, depression, dementia and severe infection. Last year, people under 60-years-of-age made up nearly half of all diabetes-related deaths in the world. At least two in every five adults will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Given the nasty complications that come with this condition, it is worth working to your change diet and exercise habits early to prevent it becoming a problem later in life.

Did you guess all five leading causes of death in Australia? Was there something you expected to see on the list that didn’t appear?

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