Comorbid physical health conditions and anxiety disorders: a population-based exploration of prevalence and health outcomes among older adults

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2011 Nov-Dec;33(6):556-64. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2011.07.005. Epub 2011 Sep 9.


Objective: The primary objectives of this study were to examine the likelihood of anxiety disorders among respondents with common physical health conditions and to explore the associations between this comorbidity and older adults' perceived mental and physical health.

Method: The sample consisted of older adults from the Canadian Community Health Survey 1.2 (n=12,792). Trained lay interviewers assessed psychiatric disorders based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, criteria. Physical health conditions were based on self-reported diagnoses by health professionals. Multiple logistic regressions examined whether suffering from a physical health condition increased the odds of any assessed anxiety disorder (panic, agoraphobia, social phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder). Multiple linear regressions examined associations between self-rated health and comorbid physical health conditions and anxiety.

Results: After adjusting for confounding variables, the presence of chronically painful conditions (i.e., arthritis, back pain and migraine) and of other commonly occurring diseases (i.e., allergies, cataracts and gastrointestinal, lung and heart disease) were positively associated with anxiety. The comorbidity of anxiety with allergies, cataracts, arthritis and lung disease resulted in poorer self-rated physical and/or mental health after adjusting for confounding variables.

Conclusion: Health problems in older adults are associated with increased odds of anxiety, and this comorbidity is associated with poorer self-reported health than medical problems or anxiety alone. These findings have important clinical implications for health professionals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence