As Americans live longer, chronic diseases have become more and more common. As of 2012, about 117 million people had at least one chronic health condition, while one in four adults had two or more. The top five chronic medical conditions in the U.S. are:
Not only can these conditions be deadly, they also can cause serious disability. In 2010, chronic diseases were the cause of seven out of the top ten causes of death. Heart disease and cancer deaths combined were responsible for almost 48 percent of all deaths. Meanwhile, arthritis is the leading cause of disability – more than half of patients who have been diagnosed by a doctor with arthritis (22 million) have trouble with daily activities due to their condition. Additionally, diabetes is the number one cause of kidney failure, non-injury lower-limb amputations, and new blindness diagnoses in adults.
But what can you do to decrease your risk of developing these serious conditions? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there are four health risk behaviors, or changeable unhealthy behaviors, that contribute to the ill effects and early death related to these chronic diseases. They are:
- physical inactivity,
- poor nutrition,
- excessive alcohol intake, and
- the use of tobacco.
For instance, ninety percent of all Americans eat too much salt in their diet, which increases their risk of developing high blood pressure. Almost one in five adults said they currently smoked cigarettes in a 2012 study, and cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths a year. 88,000 deaths per year are caused by drinking too much alcohol, with over half of those being due to binge drinking. By not practicing these health risk behaviors, you can potentially lower your chances of developing a chronic condition or dying prematurely.
Chronic and expensive
Chronic diseases affect you as a patient, but also have a significant impact on the American healthcare system. In 2010, 86 percent of all healthcare spending was for people with at least one chronic condition. Healthcare costs for affected patients are also higher than for healthy ones. For example, in 2006 yearly medical costs for obese people were $1,429 more than for normal weight patients.
These diseases cost more than just the direct medical costs related to treating the condition, too. There are indirect costs due to things like being absent from work, being unable to work, or being less productive at work; having to hire outside medical help or enter a special facility for care; and paying for transportation or child care. In some cases, the indirect costs are almost as expensive as the direct ones. The 2010 total costs for heart disease and stroke were about $315.4 billion, but only $193.4 billion went towards direct medical costs.
Clearly chronic diseases are a significant healthcare issue that needs to be addressed now. Learning more about these conditions, and practicing healthy behaviors to prevent them, will hopefully help you live a long and healthy life.