Between 1968 and 1991, the number of deaths from non-malignant oesophageal disease (NMOD) (International Classification of Diseases code 530), recorded by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) in England and Wales, trebled in women, from 118 to 340 (5 to 13 per million) and doubled in men, from 131 to 251 (5.5 to 10 per million). Calculation of age specific death rates, shows the increase to result from a rise in mortality in those over 75 years and age standardised mortality confirms a rise in overall frequency from 2.9 to 7.0 deaths per million men and 5.2 to 13.1 per million women. Between 1974 and 1988 when specific diagnoses were coded, deaths from oesophageal ulcer rose from 1.5 to 2.5 per million. In men, the death rate from oesophageal stricture increased from 2.5 to 3 per million and in women from 3.5 to 6 per million. Mortality from oesophageal perforation did not change (1 per million). Some of these changes reflect the increasing age of the population in general, but further explanations are required. Review of 84 sets of case notes from a total of 281 inpatients whose coded diagnoses had included NMOD and who had died suggested that in 28 (33%) death was actually due to NMOD, and in seven of these endoscopic intervention was responsible. The certified underlying cause of death was compared with that suggested from case note review in 62 cases; death from NMOD was substantially underestimated. This study concludes that a rising death rate attributed to NMOD is underestimated on death certificates and that endoscopic intervention explains only a few of the cases.
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