Symptom burden in multimorbidity: A population-based combined questionnaire and registry study from Denmark

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Objective Patients with multimorbidity may carry a large symptom burden. Symptoms are often what drive patients to seek healthcare and they also assist doctors with diagnosis. We examined whether symptom burden is additive in people with multimorbidity compared with people with a single morbidity. Design This is a longitudinal cohort study drawing on questionnaire and Danish national registry data. Multimorbidity was defined as having diagnoses from at least two out of ten morbidity groups. Associations between morbidity groups and symptom burden were estimated with multivariable models. Participants In 2012, 47 452 participants from the Danish Symptom Cohort answered a questionnaire about symptoms (36 symptoms in total), including whether symptoms were affecting their daily activities (impairment score) and their worries about present symptoms (worry score) (the highest score among the 36 symptoms on a 0-4 scale). Main outcome measure The primary outcome was symptom burden. Results Participants without morbidity reported 4.77 symptoms (out of 36 possible). Participants with one, two or three morbidities reported more symptoms than patients without morbidity (0.95 (CI 0.86 to 1.03), 1.87 (CI 1.73 to 2.01) and 2.89 (CI 2.66 to 3.12), respectively). Furthermore, they reported a higher impairment score (0.36 (0.32 to 0.39), 0.65 (0.60 to 0.70) and 1.06 (0.98 to 1.14)) and a higher worry score (0.34 (0.31 to 0.37), 0.62 (0.57 to 0.66) and 1.02 (0.94 to 1.10)) than participants without morbidity. In 45 possible combinations of multimorbidity (participants with two morbidities), interaction effects were additive in 37, 41 and 36 combinations for the number of symptoms, impairment score and worry score, respectively. Conclusion Participants without morbidity reported a substantial number of symptoms. Having a single morbidity or multimorbidity resulted in approximately one extra symptom for each extra morbidity. In most combinations of multimorbidity, symptom burden was additive.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere041877
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Author(s).

    Research areas

  • epidemiology, primary care, public health

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