[ kō′môr-bĭdĭ-tē ]
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A concomitant but unrelated pathological or disease process.
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The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.


What is comorbidity?

Comorbidity is the state of having multiple medical conditions at the same time, especially when they interact with each other in some way.

Morbidity is the state of being sick or having a disease.

Comorbidity refers to an overlap of different conditions. When medical conditions are comorbid, they often impact each other, even though their causes may be unrelated.

Why is comorbidity important?

How can being in the hospital with pneumonia get any worse? When you end up getting a skin infection at the same time, for example. If that happened, you’d be dealing with an instance of comorbidity: the simultaneous occurrence of two or more illnesses.

Comorbidity may be easy to understand as a concept, but it can be medically complex. In the broadest sense, it just means that someone has more than one illness or disorder at the same time. These can be physical or mental. For example, depression is often comorbid with anxiety: a large percentage of people who have symptoms of one show symptoms of both. Epilepsy is often comorbid with both migraine headaches and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Comorbidity can be difficult to treat, because illnesses can impact each other, or a treatment for one may cause unintended effects for the other. When dealing with comorbidity, doctors have to consider medication interactions, like whether a patient taking migraine medication can also safely take depression medication. Comorbidity can also increase the risk for other diseases. For example, people who have both diabetes and high blood pressure are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Often, comorbidity is discussed not just in individual people but in groups of people. Patient A has depression comorbid with insomnia is an individual statement, but depression is often comorbid with insomnia describes a general pattern of comorbidity in many patients. It’s important to remember that just because two conditions often occur together doesn’t mean that one is causing the other or that they are caused by the same thing.

Did you know ... ?

Comorbidity is a relatively new word, gaining popularity after the 1960s. But its parts are old. Morbid is first recorded in English around the 1650s and is ultimately derived from a Latin term meaning “sickness” or “disease.” The prefix co- comes from a Latin term meaning “together,” so comorbidity can be thought of as meaning “sicknesses together.”

What are real-life examples of comorbidity?

Comorbidity often comes with complications. Migraine headaches can be comorbid with many other conditions, resulting in unique risk factors for patients who deal with them.


What other words are related to comorbidity?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following cases is an example of comorbidity?

A. a student with epilepsy who experiences migraine headaches
B. a writer who has developed carpal tunnel syndrome
C. a smoker who has lung cancer