COPD and associated comorbidities

Number of comorbid chronic conditions in people with COPD

Based on self-reported data from the 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS), an estimated 599,000 Australians (2.5% of the population) have COPD (ABS 2018a). While COPD is occasionally reported in younger age groups, in those aged 45 and over there is more certainty that the condition is COPD and not another respiratory condition. The 2017–18 NHS estimates that 464,000 (4.8%) Australians aged 45 and over had COPD (ABS 2019). Eighty six per cent of people who had COPD also had one or more of the following selected chronic conditions (ABS 2018a):

  • arthritis
  • asthma
  • back problems
  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • heart, stroke and vascular disease
  • kidney disease
  • mental and behavioural conditions
  • osteoporosis.

These 9 chronic conditions have been selected because they are common in the general community, pose significant health problems, have been the focus of ongoing national surveillance efforts, and action can be taken to prevent their occurrence (AIHW 2013; AIHW 2015).

Additional chronic conditions that are commonly found in people with COPD, and that can impact on COPD, include bronchiectasis (a condition in which the airway walls are damaged and the person has excessive mucus production and frequent chest infections) and obstructive sleep apnoea (Lung Foundation Australia & the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand 2019).

Of those aged 45 and over who had COPD, 90% had at least one other chronic condition while just 10% had COPD and no other selected chronic conditions (Figure 1). Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) had one other selected chronic condition and over 2 in 3 (72%) had two or more other selected chronic conditions.

Figure 1: Comorbidity of selected chronic conditions in people aged 45 and over with COPD, 2017–18

The bar chart shows the percentage of people aged 45 and over with COPD who also have other chronic conditions.  Among people with COPD, 10%25 had COPD only, while 18%25 had one other chronic condition, and 72%25 had two or more other chronic conditions.

Note: The 9 other selected chronic conditions include arthritis, asthma, back problems, cancer, diabetes, heart, stroke and vascular disease, kidney disease, mental and behavioural conditions and osteoporosis.

Source: ABS 2019 (Data table).

Types of comorbid chronic conditions in people with COPD

Among people aged 45 and over with COPD:

  • 55% had arthritis (compared with 33% for people without COPD)
  • 43% had asthma (compared with 11% for people without COPD)
  • 41% had mental and behavioural conditions (compared with 21% of people without COPD)
  • 40% had back problems (compared with 25% for people without COPD)
  • 26% had heart, stroke and vascular disease (compared with 10% of people without COPD) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people aged 45 and over, with and without COPD, 2017–18

The bar chart shows the prevalence of chronic conditions in people aged 45 and over with and without COPD in 2017–18. Among people with COPD, 55%25 had arthritis (compared with 33%25 for people without COPD), 43%25 had asthma (compared with 11%25 for people without COPD), 41%25 had mental and behavioural conditions (compared with 21%25 of people without COPD), 40%25 had back problems (compared with 25%25 for people without COPD) and 26%25 had heart, stroke and vascular disease (compared with 10%25 of people without COPD).

Notes

  1. COPD here refers to self-reported current and long-term bronchitis and/or emphysema.
  2. Proportions may not add to 100% as a person may have more than one additional diagnosis.

Source: ABS 2019 (Data table).


Data notes

The National Health Survey (NHS) uses three factors to determine whether or not a person is counted as having a particular condition: whether the condition is current, whether it is long term and whether it was medically diagnosed. The combination of these factors required for a person to count as having the condition varies according to the nature of the condition. For example, some conditions, such as diabetes and HSVD, once diagnosed, are seen to be lifelong. Even if a person no longer reports symptoms, they still count as having the condition. While other conditions, such as depression, asthma, cancer or back problems, can be lifelong, episodic or in complete remission.

Most conditions do not need the respondent to have been diagnosed by a doctor or nurse. The respondent is counted if they said they have the condition. However, in cases where the respondent said they had diabetes or HSVD and that the condition was not current, they need to have received a diagnosis to be counted.

Condition

Current

Long term

Has the condition been diagnosed by a doctor or nurse?

Table 1: Definitions used for chronic conditions

Arthritis

current

long term

no diagnosis required

Asthma

current

long term

no diagnosis required

Back problems

current

long term

no diagnosis required

Cancer

current

long term

no diagnosis required

COPD

current

long term

no diagnosis required

Diabetes

(2 combinations)

current

long term

no diagnosis required

ever had

not long term

diagnosis required

Heart, stroke and vascular disease (HSVD)

(2 combinations)

current

long term

no diagnosis required

ever had

not long term

diagnosis required

Kidney disease

current

long term

no diagnosis required

Mental and behavioural conditions

current

long term

no diagnosis required

Osteoporosis

current

long term

no diagnosis required

Note: Please see the 2017-18 NHS User Guide for more information on the definitions of the conditions.