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Improving the public health utility of global cardiovascular mortality data: the rise of ischemic heart disease

Ryan M Ahern*, Rafael Lozano, Mohsen Naghavi, Kyle Foreman, Emmanuela Gakidou and Christopher JL Murray

Author Affiliations

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2301 Fifth Ave., Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98121, USA

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Population Health Metrics 2011, 9:8  doi:10.1186/1478-7954-9-8

Published: 15 March 2011



High-quality, cause-specific mortality data are critical for effective health policy. Yet vague cause of death codes, such as heart failure, are highly prevalent in global mortality data. We propose an empirical method correcting mortality data for the use of heart failure as an underlying cause of death.


We performed a regression analysis stratified by sex, age, and country development status on all available ICD-10 mortality data, consisting of 142 million deaths across 838 country-years. The analysis yielded predicted fractions with which to redistribute heart failure-attributed deaths to the appropriate underlying causes of death. Age-adjusted death rates and rank causes of death before and after correction were calculated.


Heart failure accounts for 3.1% of all deaths in the dataset. Ischemic heart disease has the highest redistribution proportion for ages 15-49 and 50+ in both sexes and country development levels, causing gains in age-adjusted death rates in both developed and developing countries. COPD and hypertensive heart disease also make significant rank gains. Reproductive-aged women in developing country-years yield the most diverse range of heart failure causes.


Ischemic heart disease becomes the No. 1 cause of death in several developed countries, including France and Japan, underscoring the cardiovascular epidemic in high-income countries. Age-adjusted death rate increases for ischemic heart disease in low- and middle-income countries, such as Argentina and South Africa, highlight the rise of the cardiovascular epidemic in regions where public health efforts have historically focused on infectious diseases. This method maximizes the use of available data, providing better evidence on major causes of death to inform policymakers in allocating finite resources.