Academic journal article Central European Journal of Public Health

Age- and Gender-Specific Prevalence of Self-Reported Symptoms in Adults

Academic journal article Central European Journal of Public Health

Age- and Gender-Specific Prevalence of Self-Reported Symptoms in Adults

Article excerpt


Objective: The aim of the study was to determine the age- and gender-specific prevalence of predefined symptoms in adults.

Methods: Cross-sectional study using a method of computer assisted telephone interview.

Results: At least one of the symptoms was experienced by 71.4% of men and 84.6% of women in the past month. Most common symptoms in men were back pain, joint pain, irritability, nervousness, and muscle pain; in women back pain, joint pain, fatigue, headache, and nervousness. The trend of symptoms' prevalence through the age groups was increasing, stable or biphasic.

Conclusions: The results from this study are important for recognizing and understanding of symptoms' self-perception in both genders.

Key words: signs and symptoms, gender, adult population, cross-sectional study


Prevalence of morbidity and co-morbidity is increasing with age (1,2). Therefore, one could anticipate that higher age would be associated with higher prevalence of symptoms as these are supposed to mirror the presence and development of the underlying diseases. But several studies have indicated otherwise (3-6). Taken into account many common symptoms, the results of these studies have shown that the prevalence of some symptoms increases with age (i.e. sleeping disturbances, hearing problems, joint and leg pain), while the prevalence of other symptoms decreases (i.e. general fatigue, headache, nausea), remains stable during life span (i.e. coughing, breathlessness, diarrhea, chest pain, constipation, nervousness, poor appetite) or has a biphasic prevalence pattern (i.e. sweating and impaired concentration) (3, 4,7). Reasons for such results are probably multifaceted, ranging from the effect of physiological effects of anxiety or other factors (4) to the effect of socioeconomic and lifestyle factors (8-11). There is also a gender-related common belief that women complain of health problems more often than men and present more symptoms than men of the same age.

There are just a few studies addressing the prevalence of symptoms in general population (5, 6, 12). Other studies on this topic have mainly addressed specific population, such as middleaged women (3, 13-16), adolescents and younger people (17, 18) and older patients (19). Other studies have reported overall prevalence of individual symptoms (5, 6, 20-22). One older study (4) focused on symptoms by age and gender in a general population of one city in Sweden. Its results indicated that there were no differences in age-related pattern of symptoms according to gender but women in general presented more symptoms than men. It also detected three types of symptoms prevalence pattern: increasing, decreasing and curvilinear shape with a peak at the age of 50 (4). Other important publications on the topic mainly use surrogate measures of symptoms' presentation in the population of the pooled data from primary studies on seeking medical help and use of health care services (23). On the other hand, data on service utilization and registered diagnoses are derived mainly from secondary care sources and from the disease management in health care environment and are less helpful in addressing illness presentation in the population (24).

In the past years, the society experienced many changes (25) which inevitably influenced health status and people's health perceptions (26). Increasing age and longer life expectancy resulted in higher prevalence of morbidity and changed the management of such patients which might have influenced also the symptoms' prevalence. As no studies on symptoms' prevalence in representative samples of general population have been known to the authors, we decided to perform this study. Its main aim was to determine the age and gender specific prevalence of predefined symptoms in the adult Slovenian population.


Study Design

The data reported in this article were collected in a large observational cross-sectional study conducted in the general population of Slovenia in June 2011. …

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