Some of the most common diseases in the United States cause untold suffering, as well as tens of billions — or even hundreds of billions — of dollars in direct and indirect health care expenses. Many of the costliest diseases are connected, and the onset of one ailment often makes another more likely to emerge, increasing both the human and financial toll. Read on to learn about the top 19 costliest diseases.
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Influenza: $3.5 Billion
The 2018 flu season was the worst in a decade — and influenza is not just a bad winter cold. There is more than one type of flu virus, and all types can mutate into new viral lineages, which requires costly monitoring so that adjustments can be made to the annual vaccination targets. The flu is also associated with massive indirect costs such as missed work, reduced productivity and hospital stays.
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Hyperlipidemia: $15.47 Billion
Hyperlipidemia, or excess fat in the blood — also known as high cholesterol — is a significant risk factor for heart disease. In all, 73.5 million American adults suffer from the condition, which usually can be treated with prescription medication. Those medications represent the vast majority — as much as 90 percent — of the expenses associated with the disease.
Sexually-Transmitted Diseases (STDs): $16 Billion
Of the more than 2 million reported cases of STDs in the United States, the overwhelming majority — nearly 1.6 million — are from chlamydia. Gonorrhea comes in a distant second, followed by syphilis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preventative education is crucial, especially considering that more than 50 percent of local and state STD budgets have been slashed in recent years.
Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): $31.6 Billion
ADHD, which is associated with reduced attention and impulse control, is one of the most common and costly childhood neurodevelopmental disorders. Unlike most ailments on this list, doctors and scientists know little about both the risk factors and the causes. Behavior therapy is usually used in conjunction with medication to treat the disorder.
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HIV/AIDS: $34 Billion
The vast majority of the $34 billion federal HIV/AIDS budget is spent on direct care for patients in the United States — but America also contributes significantly to the global fight against AIDS. The U.S. gives $5.4 billion — or 17 percent of the entire HIV/AIDS budget — to worldwide HIV/AIDS, treatment, education and research.
Stroke: $34 Billion
The statistics about strokes in the United States are as staggering as the cost. One out of every 20 Americans dies from a stroke, according to the CDC. An American suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and dies from one every four minutes. For those who survive, a stroke often leads to permanent disability. As with so many other diseases on this list, lifestyle matters. Smoking, obesity and high blood pressure all increase the risk.
Hypertension: $46 Billion
Nearly 30 percent of American adults — a full 75 million — suffer from hypertension, known commonly as high blood pressure. Hypertension, which also can affect children, is a key driver for the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of early death in the United States — heart disease and stroke, respectively. The $46 billion price tag associated with hypertension includes indirect costs such as medications and work absenteeism.
Asthma: $56 Billion
About 18.4 million adults and 6.2 million children in the U.S. suffer from asthma, according to the CDC. Experts estimate the total cost of the ailment now to be $56 billion, but that includes indirect costs such as poor work performance and missed days. Asthma sufferers miss an average of 14 days of work per year.
Kidney Disease: $61 Billion
A human kidney is about the size of a computer mouse — and a pair of them are responsible for filtering every ounce of blood in the body every half hour. One in seven Americans suffers from chronic kidney disease, with the ailment going undiagnosed in most. Even though roughly half of non-dialysis patients who suffer from the condition don’t know they have it, kidney disease is the No. 9 cause of death. Among kidney patients, 75 percent of all new cases are the result of some combination of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Arthritis: $140 Billion
Adults with arthritis sustain $2,117 more in annual medical costs than non-sufferers — and they also lose $4,040 in pay at work. More than 30 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis alone, and when joint replacement is necessary, it becomes one of the most expensive conditions to treat. Although the costly, painful ailment is not totally preventable, the risk for adults who exercise is much lower than the risk for those who do not.
Cancer: $157.77 Billion (by 2020)
The National Cancer Institute estimates that by 2020, America will be home to 18.1 million cancer survivors — that’s an increase of 30 percent from 2010. Cancer kills half a million Americans every year, and by 2020, the 17 most common types of cancer will cost America $157.77 billion, as opposed to $124.57 billion in 2010.
Mental Disorders: $200 Billion
Roughly half of all Americans will be diagnosed with some form of mental illness in their lifetime, according to the CDC. For the 18-44 demographic, depression and other mental illness is the No. 3 cause of hospitalization. On average, adults who are diagnosed with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than those in the larger population.
Obesity: Up to $210 Billion
Obesity is one of the primary root causes of preventable chronic illnesses — and with a cost of $147 billion to $210 billion a year, it’s also one of the biggest drains on the health care system. In all, obese people can expect to spend 42 percent more on direct health care costs than those who maintain a healthy weight. But obesity also has indirect costs, such as $4.3 billion in lost wages caused by work absenteeism and $506 lost to lower productivity per worker per year.
Dementia: Up to $215 Billion
The cost of dementia in the United States is somewhere between $159 billion and $215 billion, which means it’s more costly than cancer. The cost of the chronic condition is magnified by the fact that late-stage sufferers require constant care. Medicaid pays for roughly $11 billion of the total costs, which when broken down to an individual level comes to about $41,689 to $56,290 per patient.
Back Problems: $240 Billion
About $77 billion of the $240 billion spent on patients with acute lower back pain can be attributed to musculoskeletal conditions. Another $100 billion goes to reduced productivity and lost wages.
Heart Disease: $318 Billion
Between 2000 and 2011, instances of heart disease declined significantly in the United States, but then the progress stalled and even reversed in the worst cases. The trend, according to a report by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, is the result of massive increases in obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, much of which is attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise. By 2035, the organizations estimate that half of America will suffer some sort of cardiovascular disease, and costs will rise to $1.1 trillion.
Diabetes: $322 Billion
The American Diabetes Association conducted major studies on the illness in 2007 and then again in 2012. During that time period, the costs associated with the disease jumped from $174 billion to $245 billion — that’s a 41 percent increase in just five years. Today the cost of diabetes and pre-diabetes is $322 billion. One in 11 Americans — a full 11 percent of both children and adults — suffer from the ailment, which dramatically increases the risk of stroke, blindness, heart disease, kidney disease and the loss of extremities.
Traumatic Injury: $671 Billion
According to the CDC, non-fatal injuries cost the country $457 billion every year, and $214 billion goes to fatal injuries. More than 3 million people have been hospitalized annually with injuries, another 27 million are treated at ERs and released. In all, 192,000 people die annually from both violence and accidental injuries. Men account for the overwhelming majority of traumatic injuries, and the statistics include injuries from falls, drug poisoning, suicides and homicide.
Neurological Disease: $789 Billion
America spends nearly $800 billion fighting the most common neurological disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, migraine, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injuries. That tab, however, is cheap compared to the projected cost. The elderly population is set to double in the next decades, and by 2030, the cost of treating strokes and Alzheimer’s alone is projected to top $600 billion.
Roger Wohlner contributed to the reporting for this article.
About the Author
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.