Background: There is analytical potential for multiple cause of death data collected from death certificates. This study examines relationships of multiple causes of death as a function of factors available on the death certificate (demographics of decedent, place of death, type of certifier, disposal method, whether an autopsy was performed, and year of death).
Methods: Data from 326,332 Minnesota death certificates from 1990-1998 are examined. Underlying and non-underlying causes of death are examined (based on record axis codes) as well as demographic and death-related covariates. Associations between covariates and prevalence of multiple causes of death and conditional probability of underlying compared to non-underlying causes of death are examined. The occurrence of ischemic heart disease or diabetes as underlying causes are specifically examined.
Results: Both the probability of multiple causes of death and the proportion of underlying cause compared to non-underlying cause of death are associated with demographic characteristics of the deceased and other non-medical conditions related to filing death certificate such as place of death.
Conclusions: Multiple cause of death data provide a potentially useful way of looking for inaccuracies in reporting of causes of death. Differences across demographics in the proportion of time a cause is selected as underlying compared to non-underlying exist and can potentially provide useful information about the overall impact of causes of death in different populations.