Development of Multimorbidity Over Time: An Analysis of Belgium Primary Care Data Using Markov Chains and Weighted Association Rule Mining

Xi Shi*, Gorana Nikolic, Gijs Van Pottelbergh, Marjan van den Akker, Rein Vos, Bart De Moor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The prevalence of multimorbidity is increasing in recent years, and patients with multimorbidity often have a decrease in quality of life and require more health care. The aim of this study was to explore the evolution of multimorbidity taking the sequence of diseases into consideration. METHODS: We used a Belgian database collected by extracting coded parameters and more than 100 chronic conditions from the Electronic Health Records of general practitioners to study patients older than 40 years with multiple diagnoses between 1991 and 2015 (N = 65 939). We applied Markov chains to estimate the probability of developing another condition in the next state after a diagnosis. The results of Weighted Association Rule Mining (WARM) allow us to show strong associations among multiple conditions. RESULTS: About 66.9% of the selected patients had multimorbidity. Conditions with high prevalence, such as hypertension and depressive disorder, were likely to occur after the diagnosis of most conditions. Patterns in several disease groups were apparent based on the results of both Markov chain and WARM, such as musculoskeletal diseases and psychological diseases. Psychological diseases were frequently followed by irritable bowel syndrome. CONCLUSIONS: Our study used Markov chains and WARM for the first time to provide a comprehensive view of the relations among 103 chronic conditions, taking sequential chronology into consideration. Some strong associations among specific conditions were detected and the results were consistent with current knowledge in literature, meaning the approaches were valid to be used on larger data sets, such as National Health care Systems or private insurers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1234-1241
Number of pages8
JournalThe journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.


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