Asthma and associated comorbidities

Number of comorbid chronic conditions in people with asthma

An estimated 2.7 million Australians (11% of the total population) currently have asthma, based on self-reported data from the 2017–18 National Health Survey (ABS 2018a). Of these, around 1.6 million people (6.6% of the total population) also had one or more of the following selected chronic conditions:

  • arthritis
  • back problems
  • cancer
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • 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.

Asthma affects people of all ages; however, many of the people with asthma and comorbid conditions are older Australians, reflecting the fact that chronic conditions are more widespread in older age groups.

Additional chronic conditions that are commonly found in people with asthma, and that can impact on asthma, include allergic rhinitis, obstructive sleep apnoea, mental illness, nasal polyps (soft, painless, non-cancerous growths) and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) (AIHW 2019).

For all persons who had asthma, 41% had only asthma with none of the other selected chronic conditions, while 59% had at least one of the nine other selected chronic conditions (ABS 2018a). Of those aged 45 and over who had asthma, 20% had asthma only, and 81% had at least one other of the selected 9 chronic conditions (Figure 1). Over 1 in 4 (27%) had one other selected chronic condition, and 54% had 2 or more other selected chronic conditions.

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

The bar chart shows the percentage of people with asthma who also have other chronic conditions.  Among people with asthma, 20%25 had asthma only, while 27%25 had one other chronic condition, and 54%25 had two or more other chronic conditions.

Notes

  1. The 9 selected chronic conditions were arthritis, back problems, cancer, COPD, diabetes, heart, stroke and vascular disease, kidney disease, mental and behavioural conditions, and osteoporosis.
  2. Proportions may not add to 100% due to rounding.

Source: ABS 2019 (Data table).

Types of comorbid chronic conditions in people with asthma

Among people aged 45 and over with asthma:

  • 49% had arthritis (compared with 32% among people without asthma)
  • 37% had back problems (compared with 24% among people without asthma)
  • 34% had mental and behavioural conditions (compared with 20% among people without asthma)
  • 17% had COPD (compared with 3.1% among people without asthma)
  • 15% had heart, stroke and vascular disease (compared with 11% among people without asthma)
  • 15% had osteoporosis (compared with 8.4% among people without asthma) (Figure 2).

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

The bar chart shows the prevalence of chronic conditions in people with and without asthma in 2017–18. Among people with asthma, 49%25 had arthritis (compared with 32%25 among people without asthma), 37%25 had back problems (compared with 24%25 among people without asthma), 34%25 had mental and behavioural conditions (compared with 20%25 among people without asthma), 15%25 had heart, stroke and vascular disease (compared with 11%25 among people without asthma) and 15%25 had osteoporosis (compared with 8.4%25 among people without asthma).

Notes

  1. Asthma here refers to people who self-reported that they were diagnosed by a doctor or nurse as having asthma (current and long-term).
  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.

Table 1: Definitions used for chronic conditions

Condition

Current

Long term

Has the condition been diagnosed by a doctor or nurse?

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.