Trends in predominant causes of death in individuals with and without diabetes in England from 2001 to 2018: an epidemiological analysis of linked primary care records

Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2021 Mar;9(3):165-173. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(20)30431-9. Epub 2021 Feb 4.


Background: The prevalence of diabetes has increased in the UK and other high-income countries alongside a substantial decline in cardiovascular mortality. Yet data are scarce on how these trends have changed the causes of death in people with diabetes who have traditionally died primarily of vascular causes. We estimated how all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality in people with diabetes have changed over time, how the composition of the mortality burden has changed, and how this composition compared with that of the non-diabetes population.

Methods: In this epidemiological analysis of primary care records, we identified 313 907 individuals with diabetes in the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a well described primary care database, between 2001 to 2018, and linked these data to UK Office for National Statistics mortality data. We assembled serial cross sections with longitudinal follow-up to generate a mixed prevalence and incidence study population of patients with diabetes. We used discretised Poisson regression models to estimate annual death rates for deaths from all causes and 12 specific causes for men and women with diabetes. We also identified age-matched and sex matched (1:1) individuals without diabetes from the same dataset and estimated mortality rates in this group.

Findings: Between Jan 1, 2001, and Oct 31, 2018, total mortality declined by 32% in men and 31% in women with diagnosed diabetes. Death rates declined from 40·7 deaths per 1000 person-years to 27·8 deaths per 1000 person-years in men and from 42·7 deaths per 1000 person-years to 29·5 deaths per 1000 person-years in women with diagnosed diabetes. We found similar declines in individuals without diabetes, hence the gap in mortality between those with and without diabetes was maintained over the study period. Cause-specific death rates declined in ten of the 12 cause groups, with exceptions in dementia and liver disease, which increased in both populations. The large decline in vascular disease death rates led to a transition from vascular causes to cancers as the leading contributor to death rates in individuals with diagnosed diabetes and to the gap in death rates between those with and without diabetes.

Interpretation: The decline in vascular death rates has been accompanied by a diversification of causes in individuals with diagnosed diabetes and a transition from vascular diseases to cancers as the leading contributor to diabetes-related death. Clinical and preventative approaches must reflect this trend to reduce the excess mortality risk in individuals with diabetes.

Funding: Wellcome Trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Causality
  • Cause of Death / trends*
  • Diabetes Complications / mortality*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / mortality*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Record Linkage
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*