The 10 Leading Causes of Disability

According to the Social Security Administration, the probability of becoming disabled in some way before reaching retirement age is around 1 in 3. There are lots of conditions that could lead to a disability; some can be prevented by making healthy life style choices, but people are subjected to others due to the vagaries of genetics. Here are ten of the most common conditions that lead to disability benefits claims:

  • Arthritis, or other musculoskeletal problems, is an extremely common cause of long-term disability and accounts for around a third of all disability cases. This is likely because muscle and joint problems are a huge limiting factor in the ability to do one’s job. Severe arthritis can limit the fine motor skills (such as writing and typing) that are a major part of most jobs. Joint problems like a bad back or hips also result in disability because people who do physical jobs tend to wear themselves down over time. 

  • Heart disease is the cause of approximately 17% of all health costs today in the United States. It can strongly affect a person’s ability to work, depending on the severity of the condition and the new limitations put upon a person’s activities. 

  • Cancer is the fastest-growing cause for disability claims, largely due to rising rates in cancer, but also because treatments are more effective, a larger number of cancer patients survive the disease. Cancer treatments are almost as hard to deal with as cancer itself and include things like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, all of which drain patients of their vitality, making going back to work a challenge. 

  • Mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, and many others can be just as bad as any physical disability. As the causes of mental health problems are not fully known and very difficult to diagnose, they tend to be some of the most misunderstood disabilities. They are the most common reason that people seek Social Security disability. 

  • Diabetes (specifically, Type II diabetes) is another growing cause of disability. Generally associated with obesity, diabetes is linked with a host of other health problems, like heart disease. Diabetes can be very difficult for diabetics to manage because it requires a total overhaul of eating habits, medications, and other supplies. 

  • Nervous system disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and Epilepsy are leading causes of disability in young adults. Nervous system disorders typically surface between the ages of 20 and 40, but affect people for the rest of their lives. 

  • Pregnancy may not be considered a disability in the traditional sense, but since there are strict limitations on getting parental leave (and it isn’t always paid), some employers offer short-term disability payouts for pregnant employees. Although long-term disability caused by pregnancy is somewhat rare, complications with pregnancy and/or birth can seriously affect women. 

  • Accidents are commonly assumed to be a major cause of disability cases, but inSlipping on a banana peel might be a cause of disability here fact, accidents account for fewer than 10% of cases. Accidents could include things that happen at home or on the job. 

  • Strokes are another common cause of disability. People who suffer from strokes often have limited functioning in one half of their body. It can cause permanent damage to the brain and affects physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Approximately 75% of stroke survivors were affected significantly enough to decrease their employment. 

  • Autism is something that children and adults are being diagnosed with increasingly frequently as medical and professionals learn more about it. Autism does not always result in a need for disability, but some autistic people have an extremely difficult time securing and maintaining employment.

Angie Picardo is a writer for NerdWallet, a financial literacy site where you can find information on topics ranging from disability insurance to retirement planning.  

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