What is a comorbidity?

You may have heard the term ‘comorbidity’. It comes from the word ‘morbidity’, which means suffering from a disease or condition. Common morbidities in Australia include heart disease, cancer and mental health conditions1.

When you have a comorbidity (also called multi-morbidity) it means you’re suffering from two or more diseases or conditions at the same time.

Sometimes, these comorbidities are unrelated. However, there are often common risk factors that are linked to many chronic diseases. For example, people who suffer from weight problems are more likely to have comorbidities like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnoea2.

How common is comorbidity?

Comorbidity is quite common in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 20% of Australians (4.9 million people) have one or more chronic condition3.

They found females were more likely to have a chronic condition than males. Also, you’re more likely to suffer from a chronic condition as you get older.

Depending on the severity of the diseases, comorbidities can have a big impact on your wellbeing and may even shorten your life.

Obesity and Type 2 diabetes
1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018 – Key findings, viewed 29 November 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/burden-of-disease/burden-of-disease-study-2018-key-findings

2 Khaodhiar L, McCowen KC, Blackburn GL. Obesity and its comorbid conditions. Clin Cornerstone. 1999;2(3):17-31. doi:10.1016/s1098-3597(99)90002-9 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1098359799900029

3 ABS 2019. National Health Survey, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/national-health-survey-first-results/latest-release