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Three in four older Irish adults suffer from two or more medical conditions at the same time

Women have “a more complex network” of conditions, according to new research.

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ALMOST THREE-QUARTERS of Irish adults over the age of 50 suffer from two or more chronic or cardiovascular medical conditions at the same time – something known as multimorbidity.

Just over one in three people have four or more simultaneous medical conditions, according to a new study carried out by researchers at Trinity College Dublin.

Researchers from Tilda, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, identified patterns of common medical conditions that occur at the same time in a study of 6,101 adults.

Among their main findings were the significant differences shown in the prevalence of 22 out of 31 conditions between men and women.

Women had “a more complex network” of disease associations than men with medical conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, urinary incontinence and thyroid illnesses being far more prevalent among females.

Many cardiovascular diseases – hypertension, angina, high cholesterol, heart failure – and related conditions such as diabetes and obesity were highly over-represented in men.

For both men and women, hypertension and high cholesterol was the most common disease to co-occur, affecting over a quarter of adults.

For men, combinations of hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis and obesity formed the most common disease combinations, whereas for women the most common disease combinations also included urinary incontinence, osteoporosis and cataracts.

Speaking about the study, lead author Dr Belinda Hernández noted that multimorbidity has “previously been shown to increase the likelihood of functional and physical decline as well as impacting the quality of life and increasing both mortality and healthcare costs”.

“In our study, we identified 639 combinations of diseases which occur more often than would be expected by random chance in older Irish adults.”

Improving patient care

Dr Hernández said she and her colleagues hope their research “can be used to guide clinicians in deciding which diseases should be screened for or incorporated into their comprehensive clinical assessments”.

She added that the research can be used to “anticipate future diseases that patients are likely to suffer” and therefore help clinicians develop intervention and prevention strategies to improve patient care.

Professor Rose Anne Kenny, a principal investigator at TILDA who works at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, noted that multimorbidity “presents significant challenges” in areas such as possible drug interactions.

Kenny stated that a greater awareness of combinations of conditions “will improve management and better ensure that disorders are not dealt with in isolation” such as treating osteoporosis while also managing other co-occurring conditions such as thyroid, cardiovascular and arthritic disorders.

“One of the main things we uncovered is that the combination and number of medical conditions present in Irish adults are very mixed.

“This highlights the importance of ensuring that we treat people not diseases and that we take account of all of the information regarding patients’ physical and mental health and move away from a system of treating diseases in isolation,” Kenny added.

The study was published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

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Órla Ryan

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