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Chartbook on Work and Disability

Section 3: Factors Related to Work Disability

3.2. What chronic health conditions most frequently cause work limitation?

The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) is the best source of information about which chronic health conditions most frequently cause work limitation. When respondents to the NHIS are asked about work limitation, they also are asked to specify "the main cause of this impairment." Back disorders (including orthopedic impairments and disc disorders) are the most frequent main causes of work limitation among people 18-69 years old. It is estimated that almost 4 million people experience work limitations that primarily are caused by back disorders, representing 21.1% of all main conditions. Back disorders are followed by heart disease (2.1 million people or 10.9% of main conditions), osteoarthritis and related disorders (1.6 million people or 8.3% of main conditions), and diseases of the respiratory system (1.1 million or 5.6%). Other top causes of work limitation include mental disorders (925,000 or 4.9%), orthopedic impairments of lower extremities (861,000 or 4.5%) and diabetes (624,000 or 3.3%).

The top seven chronic conditions causing work limitation.

Bar graph showing the percentage of people whose work limitation is caused by the 7 main causes of work limitation.

Figure 15: Chronic conditions that are the main causes of work limitation, by percentage of people, 18-69 years

Source: LaPlante & Carlson (1996), Table 7a.

Surveys: NHIS, 1992.

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