The disease that kills the most

Last year, 160,909 Australians died with the leading cause of death being Ischaemic heart disease, followed by dementia.

The good news is that almost twice as many babies were born, with 159,221 boys and 149,921 girls entering the world. Of the total, 1019 infant deaths were recorded.

Ten years ago, when Australia’s population was 21.5 million, the total number of deaths was 137,854. Last year’s tally saw an increase on that figure of 23,055, while the population climbed 3.3 million higher to 24.8 million.

While more people died in 2017 than ever before, the death rate is actually decreasing. Last year, 5.3 people per 1000 died compared with 2008 when it was 6.1 per 1000.

Ischaemic heart disease, which is a condition involving the narrowing of the arteries often leading to cardiac arrest, accounted for 11.6 per cent of all deaths in the general population, but the rate has been steadily declining in the past decade, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported yesterday.

In 2008, heart disease claimed the lives of 99 out of every 100,000 people. The latest data shows this has dropped to 59 per 100,000, or 18,590. More men than women died of heart disease.

“Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, remained the second leading cause of death in 2017, accounting for 13,729 deaths,” the ABS said.

Dementia-related deaths have climbed 68 per cent in the past decade, accounting for 42 lives out of every 100,000. Close to twice the number of women died of dementia than men.

Cerebrovascular diseases (6.3 per cent), chronic lower respiratory diseases (5.2 per cent) and cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lung (5.1 per cent) complete the top-five leading causes of death. Together the top five accounted for more than a third of all deaths registered last year.

2017 was noted for having a particularly bad influenza season and this led to a greater number of deaths (4269) from flu than average, making it the ninth leading cause of death.

Cancers accounted for almost 30 per cent of Australian deaths last year, with lung cancer topping the list.

The age of death from dementia was the highest of all categories, with victims dying at a median age of 88.8 years.

The biggest killer, heart disease, claimed lives at a median age of 85.

Victims of suicide, the 13th leading cause of death, had a median age of 44. Almost 3000 people died as a result of self-harm. Males were three times more likely to take their own lives than women.

Breast cancer was the next youngest category, claiming 2928 lives with a median age of 71 years. Prostate cancer claimed 3275 lives with a median age of 82.

There were 1366 deaths directly related to alcohol abuse in 2017, a rate that has declined over 20 years.

“Those deaths most commonly occur in males aged in their early 60s and are caused by alcoholic liver diseases,” said ABS health program manager Justine Boland.

“However, alcohol is still a major contributor to a large number of deaths, particularly those which are due to an injury event. When considering alcohol and its contribution to all deaths, a total of 4186 registered deaths had alcohol mentioned in 2017.

“This change is particularly marked for Australian women, who have recorded the highest rate of alcohol-related death for the last 20 years at seven deaths per 100,000 persons.

“In 2017, rates of lung cancer decreased and it has moved down to be the fifth leading cause of death,” Ms Boland said.

“However, there was an increase in deaths due to chronic lower respiratory diseases including emphysema, which is now the fourth leading cause of death, highlighting that smoking-related illness is still a serious public health issue in Australia.”

Do any fatal diseases run in your family? Are you taking preventative measures to ensure you stay healthy longer?

Written by Olga Galacho

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