Disability Could Come Before Chronic Illness

Disabilities tied to conditions like heart disease diabetes and cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many people in the US live with a disability, and many more live with a chronic condition. New research suggests that these two types of issues might often go hand in hand.

This new study compared the rates of chronic conditions among adults with disabilities in the US to those among adults with no limitations.

The researchers found that people with physical, mental or sensory disabilities had an increased chance of also having chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

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The authors of this new study, who were led by Alicia Dixon-Ibarra, MPH, of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis, noted that disability and poor health often go hand in hand.

These researchers noted that disabilities can sometimes develop from chronic conditions, but that perhaps people with disabilities might be more prone to these chronic conditions.

The researchers used the 2006–2012 National Health Interview Survey to compare the risk of chronic conditions — including cancer, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure — in people with and without disabilities.

Participants were asked a variety of questions to determine if they were disabled, including if they had physical or emotional issues that prevented them from working, needed equipment to help walk, had limitations in day-to-day activities, and if so, what the nature of these problems was and how long they had continued.

Examples of disability included vision issues, hearing problems, stroke, birth defects, intellectual disabilities, developmental issues like cerebral palsy, depression and weight problems.

A total of 2,619 adults with lifelong disabilities were compared to 122,395 adults without disabilities.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that disabled adults had an increased risk for a variety of chronic conditions compared to their non-disabled peers.

Dixon-Ibarra and colleagues looked at odds ratios (ORs), a way to measure the association between disabilities and chronic conditions. An OR of 1 would imply that disability did not affect the odds of developing a condition; an OR below 1 implies disability decreased the risk; and an OR above 1 implies disability increased the chance for developing a condition.

The OR for those with lifelong disabilities developing heart disease was 2.92; the OR for diabetes was 2.57; the OR for high blood pressure was 2.18; the OR for obesity was 1.81; and the OR for developing cancer was 1.61. All of these scores were significantly higher than 1, which indicates an increased risk for these conditions among the disabled.

"This distinction is critical in understanding how to prevent health risks for people with disabilities. Health promotion efforts that target people living with a disability are needed," Dixon-Ibarra and colleagues wrote.

It is important to note that information on disabilities and chronic conditions was self-reported by the participants in a phone survey, which may allow for some error. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

This study was published January 30 in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's journal, Preventing Chronic Disease. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
January 30, 2014
Last Updated:
February 1, 2014