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PLoS Med. 2018 Mar 27;15(3):e1002540. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002540. eCollection 2018 Mar.

Comorbidity health pathways in heart failure patients: A sequences-of-regressions analysis using cross-sectional data from 10,575 patients in the Swedish Heart Failure Registry.

Author information

Diabetes Research Centre, Leicester University, Leicester, United Kingdom.
Institute for Applied Clinical Sciences, Keele University, Keele, United Kingdom.
Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.
Department of Cardiology, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.
Keele Cardiovascular Research Group, Centre for Prognosis Research, Institute of Primary Care and Health Sciences, Keele University, Keele, United Kingdom.
Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.
Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



Optimally treated heart failure (HF) patients often have persisting symptoms and poor health-related quality of life. Comorbidities are common, but little is known about their impact on these factors, and guideline-driven HF care remains focused on cardiovascular status. The following hypotheses were tested: (i) comorbidities are associated with more severe symptoms and functional limitations and subsequently worse patient-rated health in HF, and (ii) these patterns of association differ among selected comorbidities.


The Swedish Heart Failure Registry (SHFR) is a national population-based register of HF patients admitted to >85% of hospitals in Sweden or attending outpatient clinics. This study included 10,575 HF patients with patient-rated health recorded during first registration in the SHFR (1 February 2008 to 1 November 2013). An a priori health model and sequences-of-regressions analysis were used to test associations among comorbidities and patient-reported symptoms, functional limitations, and patient-rated health. Patient-rated health measures included the EuroQol-5 dimension (EQ-5D) questionnaire and the EuroQol visual analogue scale (EQ-VAS). EQ-VAS score ranges from 0 (worst health) to 100 (best health). Patient-rated health declined progressively from patients with no comorbidities (mean EQ-VAS score, 66) to patients with cardiovascular comorbidities (mean EQ-VAS score, 62) to patients with non-cardiovascular comorbidities (mean EQ-VAS score, 59). The relationships among cardiovascular comorbidities and patient-rated health were explained by their associations with anxiety or depression (atrial fibrillation, odds ratio [OR] 1.16, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.27; ischemic heart disease [IHD], OR 1.20, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.32) and with pain (IHD, OR 1.25, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.38). Associations of non-cardiovascular comorbidities with patient-rated health were explained by their associations with shortness of breath (diabetes, OR 1.17, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.32; chronic kidney disease [CKD, OR 1.23, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.38; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], OR 95% CI 1.84, 1.62 to 2.10) and with fatigue (diabetes, OR 1.27, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.42; CKD, OR 1.24, 95% CI 1.12 to 1.38; COPD, OR 1.69, 95% CI 1.50 to 1.91). There were direct associations between all symptoms and patient-rated health, and indirect associations via functional limitations. Anxiety or depression had the strongest association with functional limitations (OR 10.03, 95% CI 5.16 to 19.50) and patient-rated health (mean difference in EQ-VAS score, -18.68, 95% CI -23.22 to -14.14). HF optimizing therapies did not influence these associations. Key limitations of the study include the cross-sectional design and unclear generalisability to other populations. Further prospective HF studies are required to test the consistency of the relationships and their implications for health.


Identification of distinct comorbidity health pathways in HF could provide the evidence for individualised person-centred care that targets specific comorbidities and associated symptoms.

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