The Most Expensive Medical Conditions

An application for health insurance, a stethoscope and some pills( — What’s the cost of poor health? A lot more than you may think. The nation’s 10 most expensive medical conditions cost about $500 billion to treat in 2005, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). This includes money spent on visits to doctors’ offices, clinics and emergency departments, hospital stays, home health care, and prescription medications. AHRQ calculated the costs of these health conditions using information gathered from a nationally representative sample of more than 32,000 people, as well as supplemental data from medical providers.

Many of the conditions, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are common, chronic diseases that also tend to be preventable. But experts say aging Americans, who are facing ever increasing health care costs, often underestimate their ability to prevent these illnesses and their costly complications.

Here, the top 10 diseases that top the spending scale:

Heart Conditions: $95.6 Billion
More than 80 million Americans have cardiovascular disease, which claims more than 860,000 lives a year. Heart disease is the most expensive U.S. health condition, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. To reduce your risk of heart disease complications, maintain a healthy weight by eating right and getting regular exercise. Don’t smoke. Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations to control other risk factors, like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Trauma: $74.3 Billion
Americans make 30 million to 40 million emergency hospital visits annually for injuries. Traffic crashes are the most common form of serious trauma, causing 33,308 fatalities in 2009. However, thanks to better road design, air bags, seat belt laws, and anti-drunk-driving laws, traffic fatalities in 2009 reached their lowest total since 1950. You can save lives by driving safely and wearing your seat belt.

Cancer: $72.2 Billion
More than 11.7 million Americans have some form of invasive cancer, and more than 560,000 die each year, making cancer the nation’s second leading cause of death. It’s also the third most expensive U.S. health condition, after heart disease and trauma, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The good news: Overall, cancer rates have been falling since 1999. Experts say environmental causes, including poor lifestyle choices, cause up to two-thirds of cancer cases in the U.S. Reduce your risk by eating healthy, exercising, taking recommended screening tests, and not smoking.

Mental Disorders: $72.1 Billion
Demand for mental health care is rising in America. More than 36 million people sought treatment in 2006, up from 19 million in 1996. Overall, about 26% of adults suffer from mental disorders, including depression, in a given year. To help a loved one, know when to consult a professional. You can learn to recognize warning signs from advocacy groups like Mental Health America.

Joint Disorders: $57 Billion

Non-traumatic joint disorders including osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, affect more than 50 million Americans. OA risks increase with age and represent the leading cause of knee and hip replacements. Weight loss can help reduce the risk of knee OA, particularly for women. Water exercises, such as swimming, are especially helpful in maintaining joint function.

COPD and Asthma: $53.7 Billion
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes the lung diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 85% of COPD is due to smoking. Quit smoking now to reduce your risk. One in 15 Americans has asthma, more than 20 million people. Genetics and environmental exposures are important factors in the development of asthma.

Hypertension: $47.4 Billion

More than 74.5 million adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease. The good news: More people are taking care of it. Hypertension control has improved from 27% in 1988-1994 to 50% in 2007-2008. Minimize your risks by keeping a healthy weight, reducing salt intake, and limiting alcohol. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods

Diabetes: $45.9 Billion

Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes. Nearly 27% are 65 and older. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and the eighth most expensive U.S. health condition, according to the U.S.  Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Diabetes can lead to heart and kidney disease, blindness, amputations, and many other complications. Maintaining a healthy weight with a well-balanced diet and exercise can reduce your diabetes risk. For people with diabetes, monitor your blood sugar and take your meds.

Hyperlipidemia: $38.6 Billion
Lipids are fatty substances such as cholesterol and triglycerides that build up in the bloodstream. Your body makes cholesterol, and it’s also found in some foods. But more than 102 million adults have too much cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to narrowing of the arteries and contributes to heart disease and stroke. To help control cholesterol, choose foods with little or no saturated fats, such as produce, low-fat dairy, and lean meats, and exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor if you need other ways to control cholesterol.

Back Problems: $35 Billion
Nearly everyone has low back pain sometime, most often between ages 30 and 50. Many cases are the result of injury or trauma. Some cases reflect degenerative conditions such as arthritis or disc disease. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, stress, and improper body mechanics during work or exercise. To maintain back health, don’t smoke, lose weight, and learn safe techniques for heavy lifting.

Normal Childbirth: $35 Billion

Childbirth is the No. 1 reason for hospitalization in the U.S., with more than 4.1 million babies born each year. Uncomplicated pregnancy and birth cost about $7,600 each. However, an estimated $2.5 billion a year is spent on unnecessary C-sections. C-sections shouldn’t take place before 39 weeks, unless there’s a clinical reason. Late preterm births (34 to 36 weeks) face higher risks of medical problems, including death.