According to the study from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), which looked at the number of people aged 50 and over in Ireland who suffer from a number of different conditions at the same time, high blood pressure and high cholesterol were the most common diseases to co-occur, affecting over a quarter of adults.
When someone has two or more medical conditions at the same time this is known as multimorbidity and people with multiple conditions can have more complex care needs and a decreased quality of life.
Overall the study found that almost three quarters of Irish adults suffer from two or more chronic or cardiovascular medical conditions (hypertension, angina, high cholesterol, heart failure) at the same time while just over 1 in 3 have four or more simultaneous medical conditions, the study found.
" 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,"
Prof Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA, TCD
For the study, researchers from TILDA, used new methods to identify patterns and networks of common diseases that co-occurred in 31 medical conditions in 6,101 Irish adults aged 50 and over.
Among their main findings were the significant differences shown in the prevalence of 22 out of 31 medical conditions between men and women.
Women on the other hand had a more complex network of disease associations than males with medical conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, urinary incontinence and thyroid illnesses being far more prevalent in women than men.
For men, combinations of hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis and obesity formed the most common disease combinations whereas for females the most common disease combinations also included urinary incontinence, osteoporosis and cataracts.
Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Principal Investigator of TILDA, and Director of the Falls and Syncope Unit at St James Hospital, Dublin and senior author on the study said, “Multimorbidity is a major issue affecting our public health. Multi morbidity presents significant challenges to comprehensive assessment of mature adults and drug interactions. Awareness of combinations will improve management and better ensure that disorders are not dealt with in isolation, such as treating osteoporosis without assessment and management of other cooccurring disorders such as thyroid, cardiovascular and arthritic disorders.”
Professor Kenny continued, “The findings of this study can not only be used to improve guidelines for clinical assessments of Irish adults but also to inform national health policy and care pathways. One of the main things we uncovered is that the combination and number of medical conditions present in Irish adults are very mixed (heterogeneous). 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”.
“ Many cardiovascular diseases and related conditions such as diabetes and obesity were highly over-represented in Irish men underlining the importance of providing access to services to Irish men.”
Marese Damery, Health Check Manager , Irish Heart Foundation
Commenting on the research Marese Damery, Health Check Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “This research is highlighting again the need for early screening and interventions such as regular blood pressure, cholesterol and weight measurement checks and appropriate treatment for adults over the age of 30-40.”
“It was also found that many cardiovascular diseases ( hypertension, angina, high cholesterol, heart failure) and related conditions such as diabetes and obesity were highly over-represented in Irish men underlining the importance of providing access to services to Irish men.”
“We know in Ireland that obesity and high blood pressure are increasing – by next year it’s estimated that 1.2 million people will have high blood pressure. The Irish Heart Foundation does a lot of work raising awareness of the risks associated with high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. We know from our heart health checks that many adults have multiple risk factors for heart disease and stroke. We need to ensure that conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol are being diagnosed and managed, to help reduce people’s risk of heart disease and stroke.”
The Irish Longitudinal study on Ageing is funded by the Department of Health, the Atlantic Philanthropies and Irish Life. This study was funded by the Health Research Board (HRB).
The research article was published in the Nature Journal Scientific Reports and is available here:
The Irish Heart Foundation’s Mobile Health Unit travels around the country offering free heart health checks to members of the public. During a heart health check our expert nurses will check your blood pressure and your pulse and provide heart health information and lifestyle advice. For more information please see here.
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