Chronic conditions are an ongoing cause of substantial ill health, disability and premature death, making them an important global, national and individual health concern. Also referred to as chronic diseases, non-communicable diseases or long-term health conditions, chronic conditions are generally characterised by their long-lasting and persistent effects.

Chronic conditions often have complex and multiple causes. They are not usually immediately life-threatening but tend to develop gradually, becoming more common with age. Once present, they often persist throughout a person’s life, so there is generally a need for long-term management by individuals and health professionals.

People with chronic conditions can also be more vulnerable to the effects of certain communicable diseases, including Influenza and COVID-19. While most people will only experience relatively mild/moderate symptoms after contracting these diseases, people with chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer can develop more serious illness (NSW Health 2021; OECD 2021; WHO 2021).

Many people with chronic conditions do not have a single, predominant condition, but rather they experience multimorbidity – the presence of 2 or more chronic conditions in a person at the same time. People living with multimorbidity often have complex health needs and report poorer overall quality of life.

For more information, see Chronic conditions and multimorbidity.

Selected chronic conditions

Although the term ‘chronic conditions’ covers a diverse group of conditions, 10 chronic conditions are the focus of analysis on this page:

  • arthritis
  • asthma
  • back problems
  • cancer
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • diabetes
  • mental and behavioural conditions (including mood disorders, alcohol and drug problems and dementia)
  • osteoporosis or osteopenia
  • selected heart, stroke and vascular diseases.

These 10 conditions were selected because they are common, pose significant health problems, and have been the focus of ongoing national surveillance efforts (ABS 2018). For more information, see the NHS Users' Guide 2017–18.

In many instances, action can be taken to prevent these conditions, making them an important focus for preventive health initiatives (Department of Health 2021a).

Chronic condition data in 2020–21

Chronic condition prevalence data for 2020–21 is based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2020–21 National Health Survey (NHS).

Previous versions of the NHS have primarily been administered by trained ABS interviewers and were conducted face-to-face. The 2020–21 NHS was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. To maintain the safety of survey respondents and ABS interviewers, the survey was primarily collected via online, self-completed forms.

Non-response is usually reduced through interviewer follow up of households who have not responded. As this was not possible during lockdown periods, there were lower response rates than previous NHS cycles, which impacted sample representativeness for some sub-populations. Additionally, the impact of COVID-19 and lockdowns might also have had direct or indirect impacts on people’s usual behaviour over the 2020–21 period.

Due to these changes, comparisons to previous NHS data over time are not recommended.

Detailed analysis of multimorbidity, including comparisons between population groups and how living with multimorbidity affects the lives of individuals are based on data from the NHS 2017–18 (ABS 2018).

Multimorbidity estimates presented here therefore provide baseline information on chronic condition multimorbidity in Australia, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

How common are chronic conditions?

An estimated 11.6 million (47%) people had one or more of the 10 selected chronic conditions in 2020–21 (ABS 2022a).

Mental or behavioural conditions; back problems; and arthritis were the most common of the 10 selected chronic conditions. Based on self-reported information from the 2020–21 NHS, it was estimated that about:

  • 5.0 million (20%) people had a mental or behavioural condition, which was the most commonly reported chronic condition for both males and females
  • 3.9 million (16%) had back problems, which include sciatica, disc disorders, and curvature of the spine
  • 3.1 million (12%) had arthritis, with females (15%) more likely than males (10%) to have the condition (Figure 1).

The most common chronic conditions varied by age group. Of the 10 selected conditions in 2020–21:

  • mental and behavioural conditions were the most common conditions among people aged 15–44 (25%)
  • back problems were the most common conditions among people aged 45–64 (23%)
  • arthritis was the most common condition among people aged 65 and over (41%) (ABS 2022b) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Most common chronic conditions by sex and age, 2020–21

This figure shows that females were more likely to report chronic conditions than males.

Estimates presented here may differ from those reported elsewhere due to differences in the data source used, including differences in the method of data collection (for example, self-report survey or diagnostic survey). 

For more information on some of the most common chronic conditions, see Cancer, Chronic kidney disease, Chronic musculoskeletal conditions, Chronic respiratory conditions, Coronary heart disease, Dementia, Diabetes, and Mental health

Long-term health conditions in the 2021 Census

The 2021 Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) contained a new item on long-term health conditions. People were asked if they have been told by a doctor or nurse that they have one or more of the following conditions: arthritis, asthma, cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, lung conditions, mental health conditions, stroke, or any other long-term health condition not listed on the form.

Over 8 million Australians reported having at least one long-term health condition in the 2021 Census.

The Census is one of several ABS sources of long-term health conditions data. Census estimates of the number of people with a long-term health condition may differ from other data sources due to differences in how the question is asked and the conditions included; the scope, size, and characteristics of the sample; and the collection methodology.

Large sample health surveys, including the NHS, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey and the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, are the definitive and correct source for national prevalence rates (ABS 2022). The long-term health conditions question in the Census allows for the analysis of long-term health condition data at more detailed geographic and sub-population levels (including country of birth and service in the Australian Defence Force) compared with other ABS health surveys.

For more information, visit the ABS website Health: Census.

How common is multimorbidity?

It is estimated that 4.9 million (20%) of people in Australian had 2 or more of the 10 selected chronic conditions in 2017–18, a state of health known as multimorbidity (AIHW analysis of ABS 2019).

Females were more likely to have multimorbidity than males (23% compared with 18%, respectively) (AIHW analysis of ABS 2019) (Figure 2). This difference remained after adjusting for differences in the age structure between females and males.

Multimorbidity becomes more common with age. In 2017–18, people aged 65 and over were more likely to have 2 or more of the 10 selected conditions compared with people aged 15–44 (51% compared with 12%) (Figure 2). 

Figure 2: Number of chronic conditions experienced by sex and age, 2017–18

This figure shows that the likelihood of having 2 or more chronic conditions increases with age.

Variation between population groups

Certain groups of people are more likely to experience multimorbidity than others. In 2017–18, the prevalence of multimorbidity tended to increase with increasing socioeconomic disadvantage, ranging from 14% in the highest socioeconomic areas to 24% in the lowest socioeconomic areas. However, the prevalence of multimorbidity was similar across remoteness areas (ranging from 18% in Major cities and Remote areas to 21% in Inner and Outer regional areas) (Figure 3). These findings adjust for differences in the age structure of the populations being compared. 

For more information on the health of these population groups, see Rural and remote health.

Figure 3: Number of chronic conditions experienced by remoteness and socioeconomic area, 2017–18

This figure shows that people living in the lowest socioeconomic area have the highest prevalence of having 2 or more chronic conditions. 

Impact of chronic conditions

Burden of disease

Burden of disease refers to the quantified impact of living with and dying prematurely from a disease or injury.

Analysis of the National Mortality Database and Australian Burden of Disease Study 2023 data show the 10 selected chronic conditions contributed to nearly 9 in 10 deaths (89%) in 2021 and contributed to around 66% of the total burden of disease (fatal and non-fatal) in 2023 (excluding burden associated with osteoporosis which is not available within current burden of disease estimates) (AIHW 2023). 

The proportion of total burden attributed to the 10 selected conditions was the same in 2023 as it was in 2003 (66%). For more information on definitions and the burden of disease associated with these conditions, see Burden of disease.

How do chronic conditions affect quality of life?

Living with chronic conditions can have a substantial impact on an individual’s health, affect their quality of life and have social and economic effects. The impact is even greater for people living with multimorbidity.

Based on self-reported data from the 2017–18 NHS, people with multimorbidity were less likely to be in the labour force (working or seeking work) than people with no chronic conditions. Of all people aged 18–64 with multimorbidity, 71% were working or seeking work compared with 86% of people aged 18–64 with no chronic conditions (AIHW analysis of ABS 2019).

Compared with those with no long-term conditions, people aged 18 and over with multimorbidity also had higher levels of:

  • disability, restriction or limitation (50% of people aged 18 and over with multimorbidity experienced disability, restriction or limitation compared with 7.9% of people of the same age with no long-term conditions)
  • high or very high psychological distress (35% and 4.3%, respectively)
  • bodily pain experienced in the previous 4 weeks (88% compared with 55%)
  • fair or poor health (32% compared with 5.3%) (AIHW analysis of ABS 2019).

These comparisons adjust for differences in the age structure of the populations being compared.

Risk factors for chronic conditions

Many chronic conditions share common risk factors that are largely preventable or treatable, for example: tobacco and e-cigarette smoking, insufficient physical inactivity, poor diet, overweight and obesity and other biomedical risk factors such as high blood pressure. Preventing or modifying these risk factors can reduce the risk of developing a chronic condition and result in large population and individual health gains by reducing illness and rates of death.

As with chronic conditions, these risk factors tend to be more prevalent in the lowest socioeconomic areas and in regional and remote areas.

For more information, see Health across socioeconomic groups and Rural and remote health.

Treatment and management of chronic conditions

Primary care

Most care for chronic conditions is provided in the primary health care setting by general and allied health practitioners. Effective primary health care can help prevent unnecessary hospitalisations and improve health outcomes (AMA 2021; OECD 2021).  Mental and behavioural conditions (including anxiety, depression and mood disorders), musculoskeletal (including arthritis), respiratory (including asthma) and endocrine and metabolic conditions (including diabetes) were the most common health concerns managed by general practitioners in 2021.

For more information, see General practice, allied health and other primary care services and Potentially preventable hospitalisations.


Data from the National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) show that in 2021–22, the 10 selected chronic conditions were involved in 6.0 million hospitalisations (52% of all hospitalisations). 

For more information on health service use for the selected chronic conditions, see: Cancer screening, Chronic kidney disease, Chronic musculoskeletal conditions, Chronic respiratory conditions, Coronary heart disease, Dementia, Diabetes, and Mental health

See also: Australia’s hospitals.

Coordinated approaches

Within Australia, it is recognised that multimorbidity increases the complexity of patient care and can require ongoing management and coordination of specialised care across multiple parts of the health system (Harrison and Siriwardena 2018). This places a heavy demand on Australia’s health care system, and requires substantial economic investment.

People living with multiple chronic conditions have more, and longer, medical appointments and more medications to manage (RACGP 2019, 2021), yet historically there has been a lack of coordination and communication between different parts of the Australian health care system (AHMAC 2017; RACGP 2021). A key focus of the Australian health system, therefore, is the prevention and better management of chronic conditions to improve health outcomes (Department of Health 2021a).

The Australian Government has implemented a number of approaches with the aim of improving coordination and care for people with chronic conditions, including:

  • access to care plans and assessments through the Medicare Benefits Schedule for the planning and management of chronic conditions
  • subsidies through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for a range of medicines used in the treatment of chronic conditions
  • funding new approaches to support coordinated care for people with chronic and complex health conditions such as MyMedicare to inform ongoing improvements.

National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions

In 2017, all Australian health ministers endorsed the National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions (the Framework). The Framework provides guidance for the development and implementation of policies, strategies, actions and services to tackle chronic conditions. It moves away from a disease-specific approach and better caters for shared health determinants, risk factors and multimorbidities across a broad range of chronic conditions.

The Framework outlines 3 objectives that focus on:

  • preventing chronic conditions, and thus minimising multimorbidities
  • providing efficient, effective and appropriate care to manage them
  • targeting priority populations (AHMAC 2017). 

The Framework is complemented by the development of a 10-year National Preventive Health Strategy launched by the Minister for Health in December 2021 (Department of Health 2021b).

Where do I go for more information?

For further information on chronic conditions and multimorbidity, see:

For more on this topic, visit Chronic disease.