Debilitating DiseasesDebilitating diseases come in many shapes and forms – from those that attack the muscles in our body and affect our physical abilities to those that affect our brain function and impair our thought processes.

People with debilitating diseases face a number of challenges that take an extensive toll on their health and finances. A person’s life can be completely changed in just a few short months as the disease progresses.

Here’s a list of debilitating diseases that significantly change the lives of millions of people:

12. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RARA is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation in joints and organs throughout the body. A fairly common disease affecting 1.3 million people in America alone, RA includes symptoms that are painful and debilitating. People diagnosed with it may go through periods of remission for months or years where symptoms are not noticed. This is, however, a progressive illness that leads to joint destruction and physical disability, and there is no cure. Treatments have improved over time, and the prognosis for those with RA has improved. Physicians are now able to better control and prevent flare-ups, so patients are able to live a somewhat uninterrupted lives.

11. Schizophrenia
schizophrenia brainThis brain disease is a complex mental disorder that makes it difficult for those diagnosed with it to differentiate between reality and imagined experiences, behave normally in social situations, and have normal emotional responses to everyday situations. Though genetic factors have been identified as one of the causes of the disease, mental health experts still can’t pinpoint specific causes. People who suffer with schizophrenia often spend their lives in monitored isolation due to the disease’s extreme psychological barriers that prevent them from having friends or a job. Antipsychotic medications are the most common form of treatment, and because this is a life-long illness, patients usually have to stay on these medications, which have many side effects, for their lifetime.

10. Poliomyelitis
poliomyelitisThis disease, caused by the spread of the poliovirus, affects the central nervous system and can lead to partial or full paralysis. Though vaccinations to the poliovirus have helped prevent the spread of this disease in many parts of the world, it is still a big concern today due to its extremely debilitating complications. There are three main types of the disease, each ranging in complexity and health threats: subclinical infection, which accounts for 95% of the diagnoses, causes mild discomforts and runs its course within 72 hours; nonparalytic poliomyelitis, which causes pain, stiffness and fatigue, and usually lasts one to two weeks; and paralytic poliomyelitis, which targets the brain and spinal cord, and can cause full or partial paralysis or even death.

9. Muscular Dystrophy (MD)
MDMuscular dystrophies are actually a group of related and inherited disorders that contribute to muscle loss and weakness over time. Each type of MD can affect children and adults, though the most severe forms usually occur in early childhood. There is no cure for these diseases, making their debilitating effects even more upsetting. The effects can target all muscles or just a group of muscles in the body, causing severe decreases in mobility, lung failure, scoliosis, cardiac fibrosis and tightening of muscles around main joints that cause complications that lead to death.

8. Cerebral Palsy
cerebral palsyThere are several different types of cerebral palsy which affect the functions of the brain and nervous system. The cause for this disease is abnormalities or injuries to the brain during fetal development and also can occur up to the age of two years, when brains are still developing. There are several different types of this disease: spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, hypotonic, and mixed, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms include muscle tightening, tremors, speech problems, slow growth and problems swallowing. There is no cure for cerebral palsy, though there are treatment plans that include therapies, surgeries or even medications to help lessen the severity of symptoms. Long-term care is usually required as this is a life-long, debilitating disease.

7. Chronic Obstructive Pulminary Disease (COPD)
COPDCOPD is a condition which makes it increasingly difficult to breathe due to permanent damage of the lungs and constricting airways, and is often a result of smoking. Coughing and breathing difficulties usually get worse as this disease progresses, and many who suffer from COPD also have chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema. Over time, those with COPD have trouble breathing, and the irreversible damage to the lungs weakens one of the most important systems in the body. The World Health Organization has named COPD one of the top single causes of death (tied with HIV/AIDS), but the good news is that though this is a chronic, debilitating and generally fatal disease, complications can be controlled and slowed down over time with medication and a healthy lifestyle.

6. Cystic Fibrosis
cystic fibrosisThe cause of this disease stems from a defective gene that causes the creation of thick mucus in the lungs and pancreas, leading to life-threatening breathing problems, lung infections and digestive problems. If caught early, a treatment plan can be formulated to help lessen symptoms and improve the rate of survival. Treatments usually include antibiotics, oxygen therapy and sometimes even lung transplants, along with healthy lifestyle changes. Most children diagnosed with this disease lead relatively normal lives and can go through school and college with little or no interruptions to their daily routines. Later, however, the lung disease eventually worsens . Most live for an average age of 37 years.

5. Scleroderma
sclerodermaThis connective tissue disorder and autoimmune disease causes changes in the skin, blood vessels, internal organs and muscles, and can occur solely on the skin level or internally throughout the entire body. Once diagnosed, symptoms usually progress slowly over time and most often lead to skin darkening, thickening and hardening, causing a tight, mask-like appearance, especially on the face. When this disease spreads to the internal organs like the heart, kidney, lungs and GI tract, the organs begin to fail, leading to complications like lung problems, cancer and heart failure. The cause of this disease is unknown and there are also no methods of prevention, so the mortality rate for those with advanced stages of the disease is high.

4. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
MSMS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, and is more common in women than in men. The extensive nerve damage caused by this disease leads to a number of symptoms like muscle spasms, difficulty walking or moving limbs, bowel and bladder problems, loss of vision, dizziness, slurred speech, trouble swallowing, and more. Some patients experience symptoms on an on-going basis, while others have periods of attacks that may last a few days or months at a time. Depending on the severity of the attacks, some people can live a “normal” life with MS, while others’ health and mobility declines over time. There are no cures for MS, though there are medications and different forms of therapies that can slow the progress of the disease.

3. Parkinson’s Disease
parkinson’sThis brain disorder leads to bodily tremors and difficulties with movement or controlling functions. It is the most common disorder among the elderly, as it usually affects people after age 50, though some cases have been reported in those earlier in life. There is no cure for this debilitating disease, though there are medications and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the symptoms. If left untreated, the disease will get worse and lead to total disability and ultimately to a person’s death.

2. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – Lou Gherig’s Disease
ALSALS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement, though the core cause is unknown and no cure exists. Symptoms of the disease don’t usually come about until after age 50, though some cases have been reported in younger people. When neurons in the brain can no longer communicate with muscles, those with ALS suffer from muscle weakening, twitching, and an inability to move their arms, legs and body. Over time, the condition gets worse. It’s when the muscles in the chest and respiratory area are affected that this disease becomes fatal.

1. Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alzheimer’s Disease is one form of dementia that affects the way people think, behave and remember events in life. Early onset Alzheimer’s affects people prior to age 50 and is fast-moving, though the most common forms of the disorder target those in later stages of life. Symptoms start off with forgetfulness and difficulty doing more than one thing at a time. As the disorder progresses, patients have a more difficult time remembering people, places and events, and are often confused in social situations. This causes them to behave erratically and unpredictably. In later stages, those with advanced Alzheimer’s cannot understand language and can no longer perform daily functions like eating or bathing. There is no cure for this disorder, and after diagnosis, patients usually can live from 3-20 years with the disease which ultimately causes their death.


Sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine
World Health Organization
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