Morbidity vs. Mortality: What's the Difference?

Morbidity and mortality are two terms that often get confused. Morbidity refers to disease states, while mortality refers to death. Both terms are commonly used in health- and death-related statistics.

Most Common Morbidities

Hugo Lin / Verywell

What Is Morbidity?

Morbidity is any physical or psychological state considered to be outside the realm of normal well-being. The term is often used to describe illness, impairment, or degradation of health.

Morbidity is often used in discussing chronic and age-related diseases, which can worsen over time and impact your quality of life.

In addition, the higher a person's morbidity, the shorter the expected lifespan compared to healthy individuals. However, morbidity doesn't necessarily mean that your ill-health is immediately life-threatening. Over time, if an illness progresses it may increase your risk of mortality.

What Is Co-Morbidity?

Co-morbidity refers to multiple disorders occurring in the same person. While co-morbid conditions are not linked to the same cause, they may frequently occur together.

For example, obesity, depression, and type 2 diabetes are often co-morbid, though they are unlikely to have the same cause. 

Most Common Morbidities

Heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes mellitus, pneumonia and influenza, kidney disease and suicide accounted for almost 75 percent of deaths in the U.S. in 2013.

Seven of the 10 leading causes of death are chronic diseases and these morbidities increase your risk of mortality.

The prevalence of chronic disease remains steady, but infectious disease has had an uptick in recent years thereby increasing morbidity. In addition to infectious diseases, foodborne illness, associated infections, and sexually transmitted diseases also contribute to higher morbidity among Americans.

Preventing Morbidities

Ways to lower morbidity rates include increasing screenings and early diagnosis which would lessen the length and impact of the disease on a person's quality of life.

These measures would also reduce complications and lower the mortality rates of certain diseases because early treatment is often the most effective.

Other ways to compress morbidity is through education and access to preventive healthcare. For example, a model to lower morbidity for pregnant women involves access to safe abortions, prenatal care throughout pregnancy, and postpartum care along with family planning education throughout.

A Word From Verywell

As people live longer, the focus on lowering morbidity is education throughout life to create healthy habits and monitor health outcomes. A critical step is to receive regular check-ups to promote lifelong health before any signs of disease occur.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis Comorbidities.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading Causes of Morbidity and Mortality.

Additional Reading
  • Morbidity. International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Glossary of Terms used in Toxicology. US Department of Health and Human Services Public Information Sheet.