Chronic conditions

The term ‘chronic condition’ encompasses a broad range of chronic and complex health conditions across the spectrum of illness. Both communicable and non-communicable diseases can become chronic, however, the monitoring of chronic conditions in developed countries focuses primarily on non-communicable disease. According to the National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions (Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council 2017), chronic conditions:

  • have complex and multiple causes
  • may affect individuals alone or with other diseases
  • usually have a gradual onset
  • occur across the life cycle
  • compromise quality of life and create limitations and disability
  • are long-term and persistent.

Chronic conditions pose significant health problems and have a range of potential impacts on individual circumstances. Chronic conditions also have a significant impact on the health sector. Data in this section focus on 10 common chronic conditions including arthritis, asthma, back problems, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, heart, stroke and vascular disease, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and mental health conditions.

Data from the 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS) provide an estimate of the prevalence of a number of chronic conditions among the Australian population. This survey data is self-reported and is therefore likely to under-report the true prevalence of chronic conditions.

1 in 2

Australian females have 1 or more of the 10 selected common chronic conditions

According to 2017–18 data, 1 in 2 (49%) Australian females are estimated to have one or more of the 10 selected common chronic conditions. Of these females, 26% have one condition, 13% have two, and 10% have three or more.

The self-reported prevalence of these chronic conditions varies with age (ABS 2018a):

  • around 4 in 5 women aged 65 and over (83%) have at least one chronic condition
  • around 2 in 5 women aged 45 and under do (43%).
Table 2: Selected chronic conditions, females, 2017–18(a)

Condition

Number

%(b)

Mental and behavioural problems

2,709,500

22.3

Arthritis

2,183,500

17.9

Back problems

1,978,800

16.3

Asthma

1,497,300

12.3

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(c)

250,994

5.1

Diabetes

525,200

4.3

Heart, stroke and vascular disease(d)

510,400

4.2

Cancer

179,700

1.5

Chronic kidney disease

120,800

1.0

Osteoporosis

749,200

6.2

Notes:

  1. This data is self-reported and likely under-reports the true prevalence of chronic conditions.
  2. Percentages related to females with at least 1 chronic condition.
  3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) here refers to self-reported current and long-term bronchitis and/or emphysema. COPD occurs mostly in people aged 45 and over. While it 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. For this reason only people aged 45 and over are included in the line for COPD in this table.
  4. Includes angina, heart attack, other ischaemic heart diseases, stroke, other cerebrovascular diseases, oedema, heart failure, and diseases of the arteries, arterioles and capillaries. Estimates include persons who reported they had angina, heart attack, other ischaemic heart diseases, stroke or other cerebrovascular diseases but that these conditions were not current at the time of interview

Source: ABS 2018a, ABS 2019. See Table S10 for footnotes.

For more detailed information on chronic conditions, see Chronic conditions.

Cancer

Cancer describes a diverse group of several hundred diseases in which some of the body’s cells become abnormal and begin to multiply out of control. Some cancers are easily diagnosed and treated, others are harder to diagnose and treat, and most can be fatal. Cancers are named by the type of cell involved or the location in the body where the disease begins.

The primary source of national cancer incidence data is the Australian Cancer Database—a data collection of all primary, malignant cancers diagnosed in Australia since 1982.

19,998

estimated new cases of breast cancer, the most common cancer among females, will be diagnosed in 2020

In 2020, it is estimated that females will account for 46% of all new cancer cases (68,535 cases). The risk for Australian females being diagnosed with cancer before their 85th birthday is 1 in 2. The most common cancer diagnosis in females is breast cancer, followed by colorectal cancer, melanoma of the skin, and lung cancer (AIHW 2018).

The most common cancer diagnosis in females varies by age. For example, in 2019, leukaemia, colorectal cancer, lymphoma, thyroid cancer and melanoma of the skin were the most common cancers in females under 30 and breast cancer was the most common cancer for women aged over 30 (AIHW 2018).

Figure 13: Estimated age-specific incidence and mortality rate for all cancers, females, 2020

This line graph shows that, while both incidence and mortality rates increase with increasing age, incidence increases gradually for those aged 20–24 and mortality increases sharply for those aged 45–49.

Chart: AIHW. Source: AIHW 2018 (see Table S11 for footnotes).

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic condition that can be painful, affect fertility and lead to reduced participation in school, work and sporting activities. Around 1 in 9 women born in 1973–78 were estimated to have been diagnosed with endometriosis by age 40–44. Among women born in 1989–95, around 1 in 15 (6.6%) women were estimated to have been diagnosed with endometriosis by age 25–29 (AIHW 2019b).

In 2016–17, there were around 34,200 endometriosis-related hospitalisations (a rate of 281 hospitalisations per 100,000 females). Around half of these (52%) had endometriosis as the principal diagnosis. Nearly 4 in 5 (79%) endometriosis-related hospitalisations were among females aged 15–44 years, which are generally regarded as a woman’s reproductive years. This accounts for around 15 out of every 1,000 hospitalisations among females aged 15–44 (AIHW 2019b).

Rates of endometriosis-related hospitalisations varied by population group, after adjusting for age (AIHW 2019b):

  • Females living in Inner regional areas had the highest rate of endometriosis-related hospitalisations (332 per 100,000 females), followed by females living in Major cities (296 per 100,000), Outer regional areas (255 per 100,000) and Remote and very remote areas (167 per 100,000).
  • Females living in the highest socioeconomic areas had higher rates of endometriosis-related hospitalisations compared with females in the lowest areas (307 and 261 per 100,000 females, respectively).
  • Non-Indigenous females had higher rates of endometriosis-related hospitalisations than Indigenous females (319 and 196 per 100,000 females, respectively).

The reasons for these differences are not known. They could reflect potential variations in access to health services or differences in health-seeking behaviour between population groups, rather than a difference in disease prevalence.

Endometriosis-related hospitalisations were more likely than all hospitalisations for females to be partly or fully funded by private health insurance (57% compared with 43%). They were also more likely than all hospitalisations for females to be in private hospitals (62% compared with 42%). These differences are likely related to the generally greater numbers of endometriosis-related hospitalisations among females living in higher socioeconomic areas.

For more information see Endometriosis in Australia: prevalence and hospitalisations.

Mental health

The World Health Organization defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’ Poor mental health may adversely affect any or all of these areas and has consequences for an individual, their family and society. Mental and substance use disorders are among the leading causes of disease burden for Australian women (AIHW 2019a).

More than 2 in 5

Australian women have experienced a mental health problem in their lifetime.

The most recent comprehensive national survey, the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, indicated that more than 2 in 5 (43%) females aged 16–85 had experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime (ABS 2008). The ABS has plans to begin conducting the Intergenerational Health & Mental Health Study from 2020.

More recently, the 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS) collected data on self-reported mental health issues in Australia. The NHS showed that (ABS 2018a):

  • around 1 in 5 (22%) Australian females were estimated to have a current mental or behavioural condition that had lasted, or was expected to last, 6 months or more
  • the most common mental and behavioural conditions were anxiety related problems (71%) and mood (affective) disorders (54%)
  • around 3 in 20 (15%) women aged 18 and over were estimated to have experienced a high or very high level of psychological distress in the last 12 months.

Other sources of administrative data show that, in 2017–18, more than 2.4 million Australian females (20%) received a mental health-related prescription (AIHW 2019g).

The 2010 Survey of High Impact Psychosis estimated that the 12-month prevalence of females aged 18–64 with a psychotic disorder in contact with public specialised mental health services in Australia to be 24,674 (3.5 cases per 1,000 persons) (Morgan et al. 2011).

The 2013–14 Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing indicated that just over 1 in 10 (11.5%) girls aged 4–17 had experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months (Lawrence et al. 2015).

For more information see Mental health services.