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Objectives Multimorbidity—the co-occurrence of at least two chronic diseases in an individual—is an important public health challenge in ageing societies. The vast majority of multimorbidity research takes a cross-sectional approach, but longitudinal approaches to understanding multimorbidity are an emerging research area, being encouraged by multiple funders. To support development in this research area, the aim of this study is to scope the methodological approaches and substantive findings of studies that have investigated longitudinal multimorbidity trajectories.

Design We conducted a systematic search for relevant studies in four online databases (Medline, Scopus, Web of Science and Embase) in May 2020 using predefined search terms and inclusion and exclusion criteria. The search was complemented by searching reference lists of relevant papers. From the selected studies, we systematically extracted data on study methodology and findings and summarised them in a narrative synthesis.

Results We identified 35 studies investigating multimorbidity longitudinally, all published in the last decade, and predominantly in high-income countries from the Global North. Longitudinal approaches employed included constructing change variables, multilevel regression analysis (eg, growth curve modelling), longitudinal group-based methodologies (eg, latent class modelling), analysing disease transitions and visualisation techniques. Commonly identified risk factors for multimorbidity onset and progression were older age, higher socioeconomic and area-level deprivation, overweight and poorer health behaviours.

Conclusion The nascent research area employs a diverse range of longitudinal approaches that characterise accumulation and disease combinations and to a lesser extent disease sequencing and progression. Gaps include understanding the long-term, life course determinants of different multimorbidity trajectories, and doing so across diverse populations, including those from low-income and middle-income countries. This can provide a detailed picture of morbidity development, with important implications from a clinical and intervention perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere048485
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2021


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