Background: The prevalence of comorbidity is high, with 80% of the elderly population having three or more chronic conditions. Comorbidity is associated with a decline in many health outcomes and increases in mortality and use of health care resources. The aim of this study was to identify, review and summarise studies reporting the prevalence of comorbidity of chronic diseases in Australia.
Methods: A systematic review of Australian studies (1996 - May 2007) was conducted. The review focused specifically on the chronic diseases included as national health priorities; arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes mellitus and mental health problems.
Results: A total of twenty five studies met our inclusion criteria. Over half of the elderly patients with arthritis also had hypertension, 20% had CVD, 14% diabetes and 12% mental health problem. Over 60% of patients with asthma reported arthritis as a comorbidity, 20% also had CVD and 16% diabetes. Of those with CVD, 60% also had arthritis, 20% diabetes and 10% had asthma or mental health problems.
Conclusion: There are comparatively few Australian studies that focused on comorbidity associated with chronic disease. However, they do show high prevalence of comorbidity across national health priority areas. This suggests integration and co-ordination of the national health priority areas is critical. A greater awareness of the importance of managing a patients' overall health status within the context of comorbidity is needed together with, increased research on comorbidity to provide an appropriate scientific basis on which to build evidence based care guidelines for these multimorbid patients.