Arthritis comorbidities: the numbers

Number of comorbid chronic conditions in people with arthritis

An estimated 3.3 million Australians (15% of the total population) report having arthritis, based on self-reported data from the 2011–12 National Health Survey. Of these, around 2.4 million people (11% of the total population) report also having one or more of the following chronic conditions:

  • cardiovascular disease (CVD)
  • back problems
  • mental health problems
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • cancer.

These 7 chronic conditions have been selected for analyses.

Of these, nearly three quarters (74.6%) of people with arthritis report having at least one other chronic condition. Over a third (35.9%) report one other chronic condition, nearly a quarter (23.7%) report two, and 15.0% three or more other chronic conditions.

The number of comorbidities people experience differ by age. Older people (aged 45 and over) are twice as likely to report three or more comorbidities as younger people (aged 0–44) and are much less likely to report no comorbidity (23.2% of people aged 45 and over compared with 40.5% aged 0–44).

Figure 1: Number of other selected chronic conditions in people with arthritis, 2011–12

Source: AIHW analysis of unpublished ABS Australian Health Survey, 2011–12 (National Health Survey Component) (Data tables).

Types of comorbid chronic conditions in people with arthritis

Figure 2 shows that among people with arthritis:

  • 44.2% report having CVD compared with 16.9% in the general population
  • 29.1% report having back problems compared with 13.6% in the general population
  • 22.9% report having mental health problems compared with 13.6% in the general population

(these components do not total 100% as one person may have more than one comorbidity).

Most chronic diseases are more common in older age groups. The average age of people with arthritis is older than the average age of the general population, so people with arthritis are more likely to have age-related comorbidities. Therefore, care needs to be taken when comparing these two groups.

The most common comorbidities with arthritis often share common risk factors. Some comorbidities, such as CVD, also reflect the underlying prevalence of these individual chronic conditions in the population.

Figure 2: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people with arthritis compared to general population, 2011–12

Arthritis comorbidity overview fig2: prevalence of other chronic conditions in people with arthritis compared to the general population

Source: AIHW analysis of unpublished ABS Australian Health Survey, 2011–12 (National Health Survey Component) (Data tables).

Age differences in comorbid chronic conditions in people with arthritis

The prevalence of chronic conditions in people with arthritis varies with age. In younger people (aged 0–44) with arthritis:

  • 32.5% report mental health problems
  • 27.2% report back problems
  • 16.5% report CVD.

In younger people with arthritis (aged 0–44), compared to the general population, rates were:

  • 4 times as high for diabetes
  • 3 times as high for mental health problems, back problems and CVD.

Figure 3: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 0–44 with arthritis compared to general population aged 0–44, 2011–12

Arthritis comorbidity overview fig3: prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 0-44 compared to the general population

Source: AIHW analysis of unpublished ABS Australian Health Survey, 2011–12 (National Health Survey Component) (Data tables).

For those aged 45 and over with arthritis:

  • 48.1% report CVD
  • 29.3% report back problems
  • 21.5% report mental health problems.

In older people with arthritis (aged 45 and over), compared to the general population, rates were:

  • 1.7 times as high for COPD
  • 1.4 times as high for cancer and back problems each.

Figure 4: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 45 and over with arthritis compared to general population aged 45 and over, 2011–12

Arthritis comorbidity overview fig4: prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 45+ compared to the general population

Source: AIHW analysis of unpublished ABS Australian Health Survey, 2011–12 (National Health Survey Component) (Data tables).