What Is All-Cause Mortality?

Learn What Researchers Mean by All-Cause Mortality

Young girl holding grandma's hand in hospital
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All-cause mortality is a term used by epidemiologists, or disease-tracking scientists to refer to death from any cause.

The word mortality means death. When the term 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

While mortality can be random, there are often patterns resulting 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, as that behavior could likely lead to cancer, 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 behaviors that leave an individual much more susceptible to health issues such as coronary artery disease.

Minimization of Risk Factors

Risk factors can potentially increase the likelihood of mortality, but most risk factors can also be minimized.

For instance, certain behaviors such as undertaking a workout routine and getting a defined amount of exercise each day, or consuming a threshold amount of fiber, are shown to be associated with a lower risk of death caused by any condition, including other illnesses like respiratory disease or infections.

 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. Such diseases brought about by old age are referred to as age-related diseases. Some risk factors like family history or genetics cannot be controlled, but many conditions related to mortality can be avoided through healthy lifestyle choices like avoiding smoking, eating well, remaining active, and seeing regularly visiting your health care provider.

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


Talbot LA, Morrell CH, Fleg JL, Metter EJ. "Changes in Leisure Time Physical Activity and Risk of All-cause Mortality in Men and Women: the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Prev Med. 2007 Aug-Sep;45(2-3):169-76.

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