What Is All-Cause Mortality?

Healthy choices can reduce risks for common causes of death

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All-cause mortality is a term used by epidemiologists, or disease-tracking scientists, to refer to death from any cause. You will hear it used often in research reports or when the news reports on the latest study that promotes healthy lifestyle habits.

Understanding All-Cause Mortality

The word mortality means death. The term all-cause mortality is utilized in reference to a disease or a harmful exposure—such as to radiation or dangerous chemicals—in a statistical context.

It is typically expressed as the total number of deaths due to that condition during a specific time period.

Anything that causes death is considered to be a "cause of death." Therefore all-cause mortality is any cause of death.

Risk Factors for All-Cause Mortality

While mortality can be random, patterns can often be found that result from particular behaviors. Many longitudinal studies aim to assess which risk factors lead to specific illnesses such as heart disease or cancer. A risk factor is a condition or behavior that is known to increase vulnerability to a particular disease or outcome.

For instance, smoking cigarettes is a major risk factor. That behavior increases your chances of cancer and other serious conditions, which in turn could lead to death.

Other common risk factors include excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (which may lead to skin cancer) and poor diet or lack of exercise.

Both of these behaviors leave an individual much more susceptible to a variety of health issues such as coronary artery disease.

Minimization of Risk Factors

Risk factors can potentially increase the likelihood of mortality. However, most risk factors can also be minimized with a few healthy lifestyle choices.

For instance, certain "good" behaviors are shown to be associated with a lower risk of death caused by any condition, including respiratory disease or infections. These include undertaking a workout routine to get a certain amount of exercise each day and consuming a threshold amount of fiber. Quitting smoking is another example of the minimization of a risk factor.

Not all risk factors are avoidable, however. Age itself is a risk factor. With old age comes an increased likelihood of getting life-threatening diseases such as cancer. These are referred to as age-related diseases. Some risk factors like family history or genetics cannot be controlled, either.

However, many conditions related to mortality can be avoided, delayed, or the risk reduced through healthy lifestyle choices. It's the simple things like avoiding smoking, eating well, remaining active, and regularly visiting your health care provider that can make a difference.

What This Means for You

At first, it may be difficult for scientists to tease out exactly why certain good habits like maintaining a healthy weight and being active help you avoid a broad range of diseases. Yet, as the evidence builds over time, they can determine which behaviors foster the greatest health and longevity.

For this reason, when a study references all-cause mortality, it's a good idea to take notice of the advice given.

Source:

Allen NB, et al. Favorable Cardiovascular Health, Compression of Morbidity, and Healthcare Costs. Circulation. 2017;135:1693-1701.  doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.026252

Arnson Y, et al. Impact of Exercise on the Relationship Between CAC Scores and All-Cause Mortality. JACC Cardiovascular Imaging. 2017. pii:S1936-878X(17)30350-9. doi:10.1016/j.jcmg.2016.12.030.

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