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Chartbook on Disability in the U.S.

Section 3: Causes and Costs of Disabilities

3.1. Which chronic health conditions cause activity limitations most often?

Chronic health conditions can cause activity limitations. Chronic health conditions cause activity limitations an estimated 61,047,000 times in the U.S. population. The five conditions causing the most limitations are: heart disease (7,932,000); back problems (7,672,000); arthritis (5,721,000); asthma (2,592,000); and diabetes (2,569,000).

The conditions causing people to have activity limitations in major activity most often are: mental retardation (87.5 percent of people with the condition have a limitation); multiple sclerosis (69.4% ); malignant neoplasm of the stomach, intestine, colon, and rectum (62.1%); complete and partial paralysis of extremities (60.7%); malignant neoplasm of the lung, bronchus, and other respiratory sites (60.6%); and blindness in both eyes (60.3%).

The top ten chronic conditions that cause activity limitations...

Chronic condition Number of conditions
causing limitations
Heart disease 7,932,000
Back problems 7,672,000
Arthritis 5,721,000
Asthma 2,592,000
Diabetes 2,569,000
Mental disorders 2,035,000
Disorders of the eye 1,577,000
Learning disabilities and
Mental retardation
Cancer 1,342,000
Visual impairments 1,294,000

and the top ten most frequently limiting conditions.

Chronic condition Percent of
conditions causing
major limitations
Mental retardation 87.5%
Multiple sclerosis 69.4%
Malignant neoplasm of stomach,
intestine, colon, and rectum
Paralysis of extremities,
complete or partial
Malignant neoplasm of lung, bronchus,
and other respiratory sites
Blindness, both eyes 60.3%
Other deformity or orthopedic
Paralysis of other sites,
complete or partial
Other diseases of the heart,
excluding hypertension
Epilepsy 44.4%

Source: LaPlante, 1996; NCHS, 1996

Survey: NHIS 1990-1992

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