Comorbidity: Understanding what it means to be living with two conditions

You might have heard your GP, consultant, or physiotherapist use the word 'comorbidity'. But what does it mean, and how does it affect the way you deal with chronic conditions? 

Put simply, it's when someone has two or more conditions occurring simultaneously. Doctors use the word to understand and explain how multiple conditions might affect your physical and mental health, both together and separately.

To find out more about how comorbidities affect our members, we are running a short survey to find out how you manage multiple conditions, and how this can affect the way your hospital treatment plays out. (P.S. There is a prize for people who take part!)

Confused about what comorbidities are? We want to make sense of what it means to be living with comorbidity, the most common dual health conditions that people live with, and how you can conquer two health issues at once. 

We have answered the most Googled questions below: 

What does comorbidity mean?

The NHS describes comorbidity as a condition which is not considered your primary health concern that might worsen outcomes. 

For example, if you are living with cancer, a ‘comorbidity is a non-cancer health condition which in cancer patients is associated with a higher risk of mortality and postoperative complications, and a decreased likelihood of completing a course of treatment or receiving standard treatment.’ 

However, it is important to note that not all comorbidities interact - you can live with two conditions that always exist separately. 

Are comorbidities and complications the same? 

In short, no. Comorbidities exist independently of one another, although they might have the same risk factors. On the other hand, complications are directly caused by each other. 

Where it can get confusing is the fact that having comorbidity can increase your risk of complications. 

What are the most common comorbidities?

Stroke and heart attack is a common comorbidity due to the fact they have the same risk factor. They are different conditions but are both caused when the body is unable to move blood around the body properly. These conditions are caused by things including high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can co-exist due to shared causes. Both of these conditions are caused by autoimmune issues. If you are more susceptible to one immune condition, you may be more likely to get another due to the nature of your immune system.

Depression and chronic illness is a very common comorbidity. This is due to the stresses, limitations, and pain that can be caused by many chronic conditions. 

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 2 March 2023
Next review: 2 March 2026