BACKGROUND: The prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke multimorbidity (co-occurrence of two or three of these conditions) has increased rapidly. Little is known about how the three conditions progress from one to another sequentially through the life course. We aimed to delineate this progression in middle-aged women and to determine the roles of common risk factors in the accumulation of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke multimorbidity.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: We used data from 13,714 women aged 45-50 years without a history of any of the three conditions. They were participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH), enrolled in 1996, and surveyed approximately every 3 years to 2016. We characterized the longitudinal progression of the three conditions and multimorbidity. We estimated the accumulation of multimorbidity over 20 years of follow-up and investigated their association with both baseline and time-varying predictors (sociodemographic factors, lifestyle factors, and other chronic conditions). Over 20 years, 2,511 (18.3%) of the women progressed to at least one condition, of whom 1,420 (56.6%) had diabetes, 1,277 (50.9%) had heart disease, and 308 (12.3%) had stroke; 423 (16.8%) had two or three of these conditions. Over a 3-year period, the age-adjusted odds of two or more conditions was approximately twice that of developing one new condition compared to women who did not develop any new conditions. For example, the odds for developing one new condition between Surveys 7 and 8 were 2.29 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.93-2.72), whereas the odds for developing two or more conditions was 6.51 (95% CI, 3.95-10.75). The onset of stroke was more strongly associated with the progression to the other conditions (i.e., 23.4% [95% CI, 16.3%-32.2%] of women after first onset of stroke progressed to other conditions, whereas the percentages for diabetes and heart disease were 9.9% [95% CI, 7.9%-12.4%] and 11.4% [95% CI, 9.1%-14.4%], respectively). Being separated, divorced, or widowed; being born outside Australia; having difficulty managing on their available income; being overweight or obese; having hypertension; being physically inactive; being a current smoker; and having prior chronic conditions (i.e., mental disorders, asthma, cancer, osteoporosis, and arthritis) were significantly associated with increased odds of accumulation of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke multimorbidity. The main limitations of this study were the use of self-reported data and the low number of events.
CONCLUSIONS: Stroke was associated with increased risk of progression to diabetes or heart disease. Social inequality, obesity, hypertension, physical inactivity, smoking, or having other chronic conditions were also significantly associated with increased odds of accumulating multimorbidity. Our findings highlight the importance of awareness of the role of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke multimorbidity among middle-aged women for clinicians and health-promotion agencies.