Background: Published prevalence studies on multimorbidity present diverse data collection methods, sources of data, targeted age groups, diagnoses considered and study populations, making the comparability of prevalence estimates questionable. The objective of this study was to compare prevalence estimates of multimorbidity derived from two sources and to examine the impact of the number of diagnoses considered in the measurement of multimorbidity.
Methods: Prevalence of multimorbidity was estimated in adults over 25 years of age from two separate Canadian studies: a 2005 survey of 26,000 respondents randomly selected from the general population and a 2003 study of 980 patients from 21 family practices. We estimated the prevalence of multimorbidity based on the co-occurrence of >/= 2 and >/= 3 diseases of the seven diseases listed in the general population survey. For primary care patients, we also estimated multimorbidity prevalence using an open list of chronic diseases.
Results: Prevalence estimates were considerably higher for each age group in the primary care sample than in the general population. For primary care patients, the number of chronic diseases considered for estimates resulted in large differences, especially in younger age groups. The prevalence of multimorbidity increased with age in both study populations.
Conclusions: The prevalence of multimorbidity was substantially lower when estimated in a general population than in a family practice-based sample and was higher when the number of conditions considered increased.