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Unraveling cradle-to-grave disease trajectories from multilayer comorbidity networks

We aim to comprehensively identify typical life-spanning trajectories and critical events that impact patients’ hospital utilization and mortality. We use a unique dataset containing 44 million records of almost all inpatient stays from 2003 to 2014 in Austria to investigate disease trajectories.

We develop a new, multilayer disease network approach to quantitatively analyze how cooccurrences of two or more diagnoses form and evolve over the life course of patients. Nodes represent diagnoses in age groups of ten years; each age group makes up a layer of the comorbidity multilayer network. Inter-layer links encode a significant correlation between diagnoses (p < 0.001, relative risk > 1.5), while intra-layers links encode correlations between diagnoses across different age groups.

We use an unsupervised clustering algorithm for detecting typical disease trajectories as overlapping clusters in the multilayer comorbidity network. We identify critical events in a patient’s career as points where initially overlapping trajectories start to diverge towards different states. We identified 1260 distinct disease trajectories (618 for females, 642 for males) that on average contain 9 (IQR 2–6) different diagnoses that cover over up to 70 years (mean 23 years).

We found 70 pairs of diverging trajectories that share some diagnoses at younger ages but develop into markedly different groups of diagnoses at older ages. The disease trajectory framework can help us to identify critical events as specific combinations of risk factors that put patients at high risk for different diagnoses decades later.

Our findings enable a data-driven integration of personalized life-course perspectives into clinical decision-making.

E. Dervic, J. Sorger, L. Yang, M. Leutner, A. Kautzky, S. Thurner, A. Kautzky-Willer, P. Klimek, Unraveling cradle-to-grave disease trajectories from multilayer comorbidity networks, npj Digital Medicine 7 (2024) 56.

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