Introduction to mortality and causes of death

Statistics on causes of death provide information on mortality patterns and information on developments over time.

Cause-of-death statistics

Statistics on causes of death are among the most central for monitoring the health of societies. 

Each of the Nordic countries maintain a Cause-of-death register. By international convention, data are based on death certificates. The cause of death is registered on a death certificated as a sequence. The illness or incident that started the sequence is termed the underlying cause of death. The underlying cause of death is what is registered in the national registers, and what is gathered in our statistics.

How this sequence is interpreted, and what is the underlying cause of death, follows international rules defined for cause-of-death coding, defined in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, which is maintained by the World Health Organization. The Nordic countries has used the version 10 (ICD-10) since the 1990s. The rules have some room for interpretation, and national variations in coding practice are known to exist.

The Nordic countries have used some degree of computer-automated coding for the last couple of decades. Automated coding does not necessarily result in a more correct picture of the pattern of causes of death than manual coding, but it does give more consistency in the coding and thus contributes to better comparability between countries. A continuing cooperation around cause-of-death coding under the auspices of the Nordic Centre for Classifications in Health Care has also aimed to increase comparability.

As causes of death vary very much by age, the most reliable way to illustrate trends over time is using age-standardized rates. These take into account the changes in the age profile of the population. Therefore, on this website age-standardized rates are used for illustrating trends. In our database whole numbers, as well as flat rates per 100 000, are also available.

Below is illustrated the time series of all causes of death since 2000 for men and women, respectively.

Note: ICD-10: A00-Y89. Standard population based on the total Nordic population 2000. Iceland: Rolling five-year average.
Note: ICD-10: A00-Y89. Standard population based on the total Nordic population 2000. Iceland: Rolling five-year average.

Autopsy rates

Autopsies play an important role in establishing the correct cause of death. Autopsy rates have, however, been falling in all the countries over recent years.