Background: Few studies have assessed cause of death among patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We investigated underlying cause and place of death among patients with ALS in Taiwan during 2003-2008.
Methods: The data source was the Taiwan National Health Insurance database for the period 2003-2008. In total, 751 patients older than 15 years with a primary diagnosis of ALS were included and followed until 2008 in the national mortality database. Crude mortality rates (per 100 person-years) and standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) were calculated in relation to cause of death, sex, and age group (15-44, 45-64, 65+ years).
Results: In total, 297 (39.6%) patients died during the follow-up period, an age- and sex-standardized mortality rate 13 times (95% CI, 10.6-15.6) that of the Taiwanese general population. The leading cause of death among the patients was respiratory diseases, and the second most frequent cause was cardiovascular diseases. During the first year after an ALS diagnosis, suicide was much more frequent (SMR, 6.9; 95% CI, 1.9-17.6) than among the general population.
Conclusions: During 2003-2008, respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases were the most frequent causes of death among Taiwanese patients with ALS. In addition, our findings indicate that suicide prevention is an urgent priority during the period soon after an ALS diagnosis.