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October 2013

Multiple Chronic Conditions Plague More Americans

What might diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis have in common? You. According to a recent government study, more Americans are dealing with two or more chronic health conditions.

Doubling up on disease

In the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey. This annual interview-based study asks a nationally representative sample of American adults questions about their health, including chronic conditions—long-term illnesses that affect your quality of life. Think heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis, among others.

Study authors found that more than a quarter of adults have two or more chronic conditions. What’s more, the number of people managing multiple diseases has risen steadily since 2001. The most common combination: high blood pressure and arthritis. For people with three or more illnesses, the most health-taxing trio is high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis.

Not surprisingly, age is a major predictor of chronic disease. Those older than age 65 may be more likely to have multiple ongoing health problems. Older men tend to face the most health challenges.

Complicating care

Having two or more chronic conditions can complicate care. It can also drive up medical costs. As you might suspect, people with multiple diseases see their doctors much more often.

Fortunately, you can prevent many of these health woes. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends these four steps:

  1. Exercise regularly. Moving more can lower your chances of developing many diseases. It can also boost mood, pump up muscle strength, and hold down weight gain. A bonus for older adults: It can help prevent falls and future disability.

  2. Eat a healthy diet. Choose foods low in saturated fat, salt, and cholesterol. And don’t forget your fruits and vegetables. Produce can help reduce the risk for heart disease and cancer.

  3. Don’t smoke. Quitting may not be easy. But not smoking is one of the simplest ways to fend off many chronic diseases.

  4. Limit alcohol. Drinking too much can lead to many health problems. Experts recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

Is an Online Support Group for You?

An online support group can be a valuable coping tool for people with chronic diseases. It can ease loneliness, offer comfort, and pass along helpful information. Members can share their experiences through discussion boards, chat rooms, or email.

These benefits aside, internet support groups can also pose privacy problems. Once you post your health information online, it may be available indefinitely for anyone to see. Plus, some companies may use your data for marketing purposes.

Before joining an online group, read its privacy policy. Make sure you’re comfortable with it. Also check the group’s credibility. If available, read the website’s mission statement or the “About Us” section. Be suspect of sites that sell a product or request your financial information. 

Do you have a chronic health condition? Click here for tips on living with it. 

Online Resources

CDC – Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion


U.S. National Library of Medicine – Coping with Chronic Illness