Comparison of Musculoskeletal, Circulatory, and Respiratory Conditions

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Lead Author(s): 

Stuart I. Weinstein, MD
Edward H. Yelin, PhD

Supporting Author(s): 

Sylvia I. Watkins-Castillo, PhD

Three of the five most common medical conditions reported in 2012 were musculoskeletal conditions: low back pain, chronic joint pain, and arthritis. The other most commonly reported medical conditions are chronic hypertension and chronic high cholesterol. One in three to four persons over the age of 18 report having these conditions. Back and joint pain, along with arthritis, cause a much higher level of disability and affect quality of life at higher rates than do hypertension and high cholesterol. Major respiratory conditions are reported at much lower rates than circulatory and musculoskeletal conditions. (Reference Table 1.3.1 PDF CSV)

Females report slightly higher levels of musculoskeletal conditions than do males, but males have higher rates of hypertension and high cholesterol. Age is a factor in increasing prevalence of all major conditions related to musculoskeletal and circulatory diseases, but the rates of hypertension and high cholesterol are much lower in young adults (18 to 44 years) and higher in older age groups (65 and over) than for musculoskeletal conditions. (Reference Table 1.3.1 PDF CSV; Table 1.3.2 PDF CSV; Table 1.3.3 PDF CSV; and Table 1.3.4 PDF CSV)


Over the last decade, little progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of the most common respiratory, circulatory, and musculoskeletal diseases. In fact, musculoskeletal conditions and chronic hypertension, already affecting a majority of the population, have all seen a slight growth in prevalence. As mentioned earlier, there has been major progress in reducing prevalence of several fatal conditions worldwide. The time has come to focus research on non-fatal diseases, such as musculoskeletal diseases, that can cause many years of pain and disability and have been growing in prevalence. (Reference Table 1.3.5 PDF CSV)


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