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Publication, Part of

Health Survey for England, 2021 part 2

Official statistics, National statistics, Survey

National Statistics

Current Chapter

Adults' health: General health, acute sickness, and longstanding conditions

Adults' health: General health, acute sickness, and longstanding conditions

General health


Self-assessed general health is an important indicator of the general health of the population. It is a valid measure for predicting future health outcomes and can be used to project use of health services and provide information useful for policy development. In older people, self-assessed poor overall health has been associated with increased mortality risk (Mossey and Shapiro, 1982) and functional decline (Idler and Kasi, 1995).

Self-reported general health and sex

Participants were asked ‘How is your health in general?’ and offered five response options, ranging from very good to very bad. The responses to this question are described as self-reported general health.

In 2021, 77% of adults reported good or very good general health. 17% said their health was fair and 6% reported bad or very bad health.

A higher proportion of men (78%) than women (76%) reported good or very good general health. A higher proportion of women (7%) than men (5%) reported bad or very bad general health.

For more information: Table 1

Acute sickness


Acute sickness is defined as any illness or injury (including any longstanding condition) that has caused the participant to cut down in the last two weeks on things they usually do.

Acute sickness by sex

14% of adults reported that they were affected by acute sickness in the last two weeks. The prevalence of acute sickness was higher among women (16%) than men (11%).

Longstanding conditions


Longstanding conditions affect the body or mind for 12 months or more. Most longstanding conditions increase in prevalence with age (Moody, 2019), and vary in their effects on individuals, from minimal impact to disability. Most longstanding conditions are managed in the community, but some require inpatient stays, or domiciliary or residential care. Some of the longstanding conditions treated by GPs are monitored through the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) for prevalence and achievement of treatment targets.

Methods and definitions

The question on longstanding illness is included in the main interview. Prior to 2012, the question referred to ‘an illness, disability or infirmity…that has troubled you over a period of time or that is likely to affect you over a period of time’. In 2012, the questions on longstanding illness were changed to be consistent with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) harmonised disability questions designed for use in social surveys (HSE 2012). Participants were asked this question: ‘Do you have any physical or mental health conditions or illnesses lasting or expected to last 12 months or more?’

Participants who reported that they had a physical or mental health condition or illness lasting or expected to last 12 months or more were further asked ‘What is the matter with you?’, and their answers for up to six conditions were recorded verbatim. These were coded into 42 conditions, which were further grouped into the 14 chapter categories of the ICD-10, covering infectious and non-communicable diseases of the body and mind.

Further information about the ICD-10

ICD-10 is a medical classification list by the World Health Organization (WHO) and stands for the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (Source: ICD-10). Each ICD-10 chapter covers a system, or group of organs, which work together to carry out a function, e.g. VII Diseases of the eye and adnexa covers the eye, eyelids and optic nerve; whilst XI Diseases of the digestive system covers conditions of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.

Table A. ICD-10 chapter categories

ICD-10 Chapter

Short description for this HSE report

Longer description used in coding


Infectious diseases

Infectious and parasitic disease.


Cancer (neoplasms) and benign growths

Cancer (neoplasm), including lumps, masses, tumours and growths and benign (non-malignant) lumps and cysts.


Conditions of blood and related organs

Disorders of blood and blood forming organs and immunity disorders, including anaemia and haemophilia.


Diabetes, other endocrine and metabolic conditions

Diabetes, including hyperglycaemia, other endocrine or hormone problems (e.g. thyroid) and metabolic conditions (e.g. obesity, high cholesterol).


Mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental conditions

Mental illness, behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorders, including anxiety, depression, ‘nerves’. Learning disabilities.


Nervous system conditions

Nervous system (central and peripheral including brain) - not mental illness. Includes epilepsy, migraine, other problems of brain and nervous system.


Eye complaints

Eye complaints, including cataracts, poor sight, blindness, other eye problems.


Ear complaints

Ear complaints, including deafness, tinnitus, Meniere’s disease and balance problems, other ear and related complaints.


Heart and circulatory conditions

Disorders of the heart, blood vessels and circulatory system, including stroke, cerebral haemorrhage, thrombosis; ischaemic heart disease, heart attack, angina; hypertension, high blood pressure; other heart problems; piles, varicose veins, other blood vessels problems.


Respiratory system conditions

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, bronchitis, emphysema), asthma, hay fever, other respiratory conditions.


Digestive system conditions

Stomach ulcer, ulcer (not elsewhere specified), abdominal hernia or rupture, other digestive complaints (stomach, liver, pancreas, bile ducts, small intestine - duodenum, jejunum and ileum), complaints of bowel and colon (large intestine, caecum, bowel, colon, rectum), complaints of teeth, mouth, tongue.


Skin complaints

Skin complaints.


Conditions of the musculoskeletal system

Arthritis, rheumatism, fibrositis; back problems, slipped disc, spine, neck; other problems of bones, joints or muscles.


Conditions of the genito-urinary system

Kidney, urinary tract, bladder problems, reproductive system problems, prostate, hysterectomy.

Longstanding conditions by sex

In 2021, 40% of adults aged 16 and over had at least one longstanding illness or condition. Participants could record up to six conditions and so the overall prevalence of having any longstanding condition is lower than the combined prevalence of individual conditions.

For more information: Table 1

The most common conditions were:

  • conditions of the musculoskeletal system (13%)
  • mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental conditions (9%)
  • conditions of the heart and circulatory system (9%)
  • conditions of the respiratory system (8%)
  • diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic conditions (7%).

Other types of longstanding conditions had prevalence levels below 5%.

Women were more likely than men to have one or more longstanding conditions (43% of women had a longstanding condition, compared with 37% of men).

Women were more likely than men to have:

  • musculoskeletal conditions (15% compared to 11%)
  • mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental conditions (11% compared to 8%)
  • diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic conditions (8% compared to 6%)
  • nervous system conditions (5% compared to 3%).

Heart and circulatory conditions were more commonly reported by men (9% of men, 8% of women).

For more information: Table 2


Last edited: 16 May 2023 9:31 am