Chronic conditions and disability

Chronic health conditions are often associated with some level of disability. This section explores how many people with 1 or more of 8 selected chronic conditions have disability, and how severe this disability is.

Chronic conditions looked at are:

  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • arthritis and related disorders
  • back pain and problems
  • osteoporosis
  • asthma
  • emphysema.

These chronic conditions were selected because they are common, pose significant health problems, have been the focus of recent AIHW surveillance efforts and, in many instances, action can be taken to prevent their occurrence. See AIHW chronic disease for more information.

Chronic health conditions are the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia. About 5.4 million Australians (23% of the population) are affected by at least 1 of the 8 chronic health conditions covered in this section. For most (68% or 3.7 million), the condition is reported as their main health condition (the condition causing them the most problems) (AIHW 2018).

Chronic conditions often coexist with some form of disability:

  • about half (51%, or 2.8 million) of Australians with at least 1 selected chronic condition also have disability
  • 41% (1.5 million) of Australians who have 1 selected chronic condition as their main condition also have disability (AIHW 2018).

It cannot be assumed that disability is a consequence of a chronic health condition. As such, this section only describes the associations between disability and the selected chronic conditions and does not describe a causal relationship.

Where can I find out more?

Detailed data tables are available at Data.

More information on:


AHMAC (Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council) 2017. National Strategic Framework for chronic conditions. Canberra: Australian Government.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018. Chronic conditions and disability 2015. Cat. no. CDK 8. Canberra: AIHW