Morbidity and Mortality: When to Use Morbidity vs. Mortality

Morbidity and mortality are fundamental concepts in understanding public health and the impact of diseases on populations. They are often used together, they sound a bit similar, so it’s no wonder that some confusion exists when it comes to choosing only one of them. Thankfully, there is a clear difference between these two and if you remember it, you won’t have any problems with them.

Understanding Morbidity and Mortality

Key Takeaways

  • Morbidity encompasses the prevalence and impact of diseases within a population.
  • Mortality rates are crucial for understanding health outcomes and the effectiveness of health interventions.
  • Together, these metrics inform public health strategies and resource allocation.

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Morbidity and Mortality: the Definitions

We define morbidity as the condition of being diseased or the incidence of illness within a population. To measure morbidity, we use two primary metrics:

  • Prevalence: This represents the proportion of individuals who have a particular disease at a specific time. It provides us with a snapshot of a disease’s impact on a community.
  • Incidence: This indicates the number of new cases that develop in a given period, allowing us to track the spread of diseases over time.

Mortality is more straightforward—it’s the occurrence of death within a population. When we analyze mortality rates, we’re examining:

  • Crude mortality rate: The total number of deaths per 1,000 individuals in a population each year.
  • Age-specific mortality rate: Deaths within particular age groups per 1,000 individuals of that age.
  • Cause-specific mortality rate: The frequency of deaths due to a specific cause per 100,000 individuals in a population.

Morbidity and Mortality: the Differences

MORBIDITY refers to someone being unhealthy. On the other hand, MORTALITY refers to someone being dead.

These two words are most commonly used when you are talking about the morbidity and the mortality rate. Unsurprisingly, the morbidity rate examines how many people got a certain disease in a specific population, at a specific geographical location during a specific time period. This statistics is very helpful for doctors and scientists because it allows them to see how dangerous the illness is, and take all the necessary steps to protect as many people from catching this disease as possible.

The mortality rate usually refers to a number of deaths that occur in a year, per one thousand people. Often it is paired with the birth rate, i.e. the number of people that are born in a year. These two rates help us estimate how the population of the planet changes during the particular year.

There are various kinds of mortality rates that are used to make better and more accurate estimations about the health and the well-being of people of different ages and living in different parts of the world. For example, there is the maternal mortality rate that shows the number of mothers who died when giving birth to their child, or the infant mortality rate that shows how many children younger than one year old have died during the specified time period.

It can be very challenging to collect reliable information about morbidity and mortality, especially when it comes to less developed countries. But when this information is collected, it can improve the quality of life all around the globe. Looking at the morbidity and mortality rates, it is possible to predict how dangerous an illness is and to provide the necessary help to the patients, so the morbidity rate drops in the following years. With improved healthcare systems, the mortality rate will also naturally drop.

Real-World Examples

When discussing real-world morbidity and mortality, we are looking at the incidence of disease and death in populations. These are central concerns of public health and medicine, as they help to identify the impact of various health conditions and risks on communities. Here are several examples of morbidity and mortality from different causes:

Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs):

  • Morbidity: Conditions such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, and heart failure are widespread, affecting millions of people worldwide.
  • Mortality: CVDs are the number one cause of death globally, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating 17.9 million deaths each year.


  • Morbidity: Cancer affects millions, with lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers being among the most common types.
  • Mortality: It is a leading cause of death worldwide, with the WHO reporting an estimated 10 million deaths in 2020.

Infectious Diseases:

  • Morbidity: Diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and more recently, COVID-19, have significant morbidity rates in various regions.
  • Mortality: These diseases can be lethal, especially without proper treatment. For instance, COVID-19 has caused millions of deaths since its emergence in 2019.


  • Morbidity: A chronic disease that affects the body’s ability to process sugar, diabetes has a high morbidity rate with over 400 million people affected worldwide.
  • Mortality: Diabetes can lead to fatal complications if not managed properly, contributing to over 1.5 million deaths annually according to the WHO.

Chronic Respiratory Diseases:

  • Morbidity: Diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma affect the respiratory system, with COPD alone affecting more than 250 million people globally.
  • Mortality: Chronic respiratory diseases are a major cause of death, with COPD alone causing over 3 million deaths each year.

Accidents and Injuries:

  • Morbidity: Accidents, including road traffic accidents, falls, and workplace incidents, result in injuries to millions of people each year.
  • Mortality: Injuries are a significant cause of death, particularly among younger age groups, with the WHO reporting around 4.4 million deaths annually from injuries.

Maternal Health:

  • Morbidity: Complications during pregnancy and childbirth can lead to morbidity in mothers, including conditions like preeclampsia, hemorrhage, and infections.
  • Mortality: Despite improvements, maternal mortality remains a significant issue, especially in low-income countries, with the WHO estimating 295,000 maternal deaths in 2017.

Mental Health Disorders:

  • Morbidity: Mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, affect a significant portion of the global population.
  • Mortality: While mental health conditions are not often directly fatal, they can lead to an increased risk of mortality from suicide and other health complications.

Morbidity vs. Mortality Examples

Examples of Morbidity

  • The study focused on the morbidity rate associated with chronic diseases.
  • Public health campaigns aim to reduce the morbidity caused by smoking.
  • The morbidity statistics for the recent outbreak were alarming to the community.
  • Doctors are trying to find ways to decrease morbidity in elderly patients.
  • The morbidity and mortality conference reviewed challenging medical cases.
  • High morbidity can impact a population’s quality of life and economic productivity.
  • The morbidity associated with obesity is a growing concern for healthcare providers.

Examples of Mortality

  • The mortality rate from the disease has decreased due to the new vaccine.
  • Researchers are studying the factors that influence infant mortality.
  • The mortality of humans is a common theme in philosophy and art.
  • Advances in medicine have significantly lowered mortality associated with heart attacks.
  • The mortality figures during the heatwave highlighted the risks of extreme weather events.
  • Life insurance rates are often based on mortality tables that predict lifespan.
  • The mortality rate is an important indicator of a country’s healthcare system’s effectiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does morbidity mean in medical terms?

Morbidity refers to the presence of illness, disease, or affliction within a population. In medical terms, it is a measure of how many people are affected by a certain disease or health condition at a given time.

Can you explain the difference between morbidity and mortality?

Morbidity pertains to the rate or extent of disease or illness within a group, while mortality is concerned with the rate of death within a population. Understanding both terms helps us grasp the overall health burden that specific conditions impose on a society.

What are some common symptoms associated with high morbidity rates?

Common symptoms or conditions that often contribute to high morbidity rates include chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. These conditions typically require long-term management and can significantly impact quality of life.

What are the primary functions of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report?

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) is a publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that provides updates on public health information and recommendations. Its primary functions are to track health-related data and inform health professionals about current trends in morbidity and mortality.

How do epidemiologists define and measure morbidity?

Epidemiologists define morbidity through several metrics, including incidence and prevalence. They measure it by quantifying the number of new cases, the total number of cases, or the severity of disease within a specific population over a given period of time.

What are the key indicators used to track morbidity and mortality in populations?

Key indicators include incidence and prevalence rates for morbidity and the mortality rate or number of deaths per population. These indicators help track the health status of groups and can inform public health strategies and interventions.

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