Defining and measuring multimorbidity: a systematic review of systematic reviews

Johnston, MC, Crilly, M, Black, C, Prescott, Gordon orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9156-2361 and Mercer, SW (2019) Defining and measuring multimorbidity: a systematic review of systematic reviews. The European Journal of Public Health, 29 (1). pp. 182-189. ISSN 1101-1262

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Multimorbidity, the coexistence of multiple health conditions, is a growing public health challenge. Research and intervention development are hampered by the lack of consensus regarding defining and measuring multimorbidity. The aim of this systematic review was to pool the findings of systematic reviews examining definitions and measures of multimorbidity.


Medline, Embase, PubMed and Cochrane were searched from database inception to February 2017. Two authors independently screened titles, abstracts and full texts and extracted data from the included papers. Disagreements were resolved with a third author. Reviews were quality assessed.


Of six reviews, two focussed on definitions and four on measures. Multimorbidity was commonly defined as the presence of multiple diseases or conditions, often with a cut-off of two or more. One review developed a holistic definition including biopsychosocial and somatic factors as well as disease. Reviews recommended using measures validated for the outcome of interest. Disease counts are an alternative if no validated measure exists.


To enable comparison between studies and settings, researchers and practitioners should be explicit about their choice of definition and measure. Using a cut-off of two or more conditions as part of the definition is widely adopted. Measure selection should be based on tools validated for the outcome being considered. Where there is no validated measure, or where multiple outcomes or populations are being considered, disease counts are appropriate.

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