Research Article: Age and sex related self-reported symptoms in a general population across 30 years: Patterns of reporting and secular trend

Date Published: February 4, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Annika Bardel, Mari-Ann Wallander, Thorne Wallman, Annika Rosengren, Saga Johansson, Henry Eriksson, Kurt Svärdsudd, Hemachandra Reddy.


To study age and sex specific prevalence of 30 symptoms in random samples from the general population and to analyze possible secular trends across time.

The study was based on data from eight on-going Swedish cohort studies, with baseline investigations performed between 1973 and 2003. Samples were drawn from the general population of the cities of Gothenburg and Eskilstuna, and of Uppsala County. Overall, 20,160 subjects were sampled, 14,470 (71.8%) responded, of whom 12.000 were unique subjects, and 2548 were part of more than one sample.

The Complaint score sub-scale of the Gothenburg Quality of Life instrument, listing 30 general symptoms was used. Responders were asked to indicate which symptoms they had experienced during the last three months.

Women reported on average 7.8 symptoms, and men 5.3 (p<0.0001). Women reported higher prevalence than men for 24 of the 30 symptoms. In multivariate analyses four patterns of prevalence across age were identified in both men and women; increasing prevalence, decreasing, stable and biphasic prevalence. The symptoms in the various pattern groups differed somewhat between men and women. However, symptoms related to strain were prominent among symptoms decreasing with age. Moreover, there were secular trends. Across all symptoms reporting prevalence increased over time in men (p<0.001) as well as in women (p<0.0001). Women reported higher total symptom prevalence than men. Symptoms related to health generally increased with age, while symptoms related to stress decreased markedly. Significant secular trends across time regarding symptom prevalence were found.

Partial Text

According to common knowledge general symptom prevalence should increase by age, presumably because of the ageing process with its wear and tear of body tissues. Since aging populations are becoming a general concern for health care planners it is of interest to know whether this applies to all self-reported symptoms or if it is possible to identify specific patterns of symptom reporting by for instance sex or increasing age.

Women reported higher total symptom prevalence than men. There were gender differences seen in prevalence patterns across age among 10 of the 30 reported symptoms. Four symptom prevalence patterns were found, increasing, stable, biphasic, and decreasing. Generally there was a secular trend towards a tendency of increased reporting across time after taking the effects of age into account. However, for different symptom groups the secular trends were at variance.

Women reported higher total symptom prevalence than men. There were gender differences for 10 of the 30 reported symptoms, while 20 of the examined symptoms had similar prevalence patterns across age. Four symptom patterns were found, increasing, decreasing, stable, and biphasic. About half of the symptoms decreased by age. A secular trend was found showing an increase in symptom reporting from 1985 and onwards.




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