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Leading Causes of Death

Leading causes of death are those causes that account for the highest numbers of deaths for a given population and time period. Leading cause of death rankings are based on the underlying cause of death. There are 50 rankable causes of death.

In 1951, the Public Health Conference on Records and Statistics recommended that state and federal agencies responsible for identifying diseases of public health importance adopt a uniform ranking procedure using a standard list of causes of death. The procedures implemented in 1952 are essentially the same as those currently used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS); however, the cause-of-death lists have been expanded and altered over time with each subsequent revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD ).
  • Leading causes of death are a primary indicator of a geographic area's overall health status or quality of life.
  • Cause-of-death ranking is a useful tool for illustrating the relative burden of cause-specific mortality.
  • Analysis of mortality by cause is essential for the development of prevention strategies.
Nationally, heart disease and cancer have been the 1st and 2nd leading causes of death, respectively, since at least 1935. Stroke has been among the five leading causes every year since at least 1935. Unintentional injury entered the five leading causes of death in 1946 and chronic lower respiratory diseases entered the five leading causes of death in 1979.

Leading causes of death vary by time period, geographic area, age, race, ethnicity, gender, and other demographic factors.
Mortality statistics are compiled in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) regulations, which specify that member nations classify and code causes of death in accordance with the current revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). ICD provides the basic guidance used in virtually all countries to code and classify causes of death. Effective with deaths occurring in 1999, the United States began using the 10th revision of this classification, (ICD-10).

ICD not only details disease classification but also provides definitions, tabulation lists, the format of the cause-of-death section of the death certificate, and the rules for coding cause of death.

Tabulations of cause-of-death statistics are based solely on the underlying cause of death. The underlying cause is defined by WHO as the disease or injury that initiated the train of events leading directly to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence that produced the fatal injury. The underlying cause is selected from the conditions entered by the physician in the cause­of-death section of the death certificate. When more than one cause or condition is entered by the physician, the underlying cause is determined by the sequence of conditions on the certificate, the provisions of ICD, and associated selection rules and modifications.

Query Death Data for Leading Causes of Death

This query produces death rates for all 50 leading causes of death. Sort the results table by the cause of death to see which causes are at the top for New Mexico.

Cause-specific Death Queries (Death Certificate Data)

These links will run the query and take you to the results page. To modify the query criteria, you can use the top left ("MODIFY Query") navigation button on the query results page.

Summary Measures of Mortaltiy

The information provided above is from the New Mexico Department of Health's NM-IBIS web site ( The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: "Retrieved Sun, 24 September 2017 from New Mexico Department of Health, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site:".

Content updated: Thu, 7 Sep 2017 15:35:20 MDT