Glossary:Competing cause of death

The term competing cause of death can be used in different ways:

  • as two or more causally unrelated, etiologically specific diseases listed in part I of the death certificate; this may be a source of error on the medical part of the death certificate;
  • referring to the fact that if a person is cured (and will not die) from one disease, (s)he is eligible to attract another fatal disease; it is possible, by using multi-decrement (or cause-elimination) life tables, to investigate the impact on life expectancy if deaths from a particular cause were to be eliminated from a population; life expectancy is not automatically improved, however, by simply releasing a population from the burden of a particular cause of death; should a cause be removed, other causes will then ‘compete’ for the ‘space’ it leaves; the effect of ‘competing causes’ can be assessed through competing risk analysis.

Related concepts

Statistical data