Healthcare News & Insights

The 12 Most Debilitating Diseases

Debilitating 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.


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  • Ken Stanfield

    COPD and Cystic Fibrosis are both devastating, I have seen many instances of both. Everything else on this list is staggering also… a very sobering, but well written, piece. Thank you.

  • JS7

    Outrageous that you have left Chronic Fatigue/ME off this list.

  • Shaswar

    I think Meniere’s Disease should be included in this list.

  • Nikki Potter

    Two words: pulsitale tinnitus.

  • Debbie O’Sullivan

    Would chronic pain syndrome/fibromyalgia fall into this list of debilitating diseases?

    • lisa

      if you have a diagnosis of fibro, i suggest you see more specialists, many ppl get this diagnosis when there’s something else going on that Drs are too lazy to figure out. I had it diagnosed twice and kept searching for the answer bc fibro didn’t fit me. Finally figured out my problem is neuromuscular, diagnosed by two different neurologists, neuromuscular specialists- a very rare disease that no rheumatologist would pick up, or possibly even have heard of. I know fibro exists, but sometimes it’s not that, and ppl with fibro diagnosis suffer bc they’re not getting the right treatment. Just my opinion and experience.

  • kharaa

    I agree, where is severe intractable Tinnitus on this list? it literally makes even the act of thinking hard to do, i’ve suffered from it for 8 years.

  • Brandy Nix

    Did you consider Lupus for this list? There are conditions on here that are NOT fatal but Lupus IS. Whoever wrote this needs to do some more research on debilitating diseases.

    • HealthyVeggies

      “fatal” is sometimes a good thing when it comes to non-terminal illnesses. Not having the option of death when you are suffering from QoL problems due to severe physical illness/mental illness is one of the worst things about it, that’s why suicide (to end physical illness/mental illness/medication side effect induced suffering), assisted suicide, and euthanasia are so vital. if you have no quality of life, fatal means there is an end to the torture. however if you are severely disabled so much that you cannot carry out suicide (paralysis) or you are deemed mentally ill & forced against will to suicide prevention/watch 24/7 have no access to tools for suicide, you dont even have the solace in knowing there is an ending to the torture.

  • Eve M

    Why is SLE not on this list but RA is? You can’t die from RA but you can certainly die from lupus. All credibility is lost on this list and perhaps even site.

    • Leon Gower

      Yes you can die from RA as it causes systemic inflammation not just of the joints but of all the organs. Many people do die from this disease and the title is “12 most debilitating diseases” …. RA is most certainly debilitating.

    • Blingthang

      Uh, yes you can die from RA. It happens all the time. What do you think Adrienne Rich died of? RA is a systemic disease and can cause heart attacks, strokes, serious lung disease, kidney disease, renal disease, spinal cord syndrome, lymphoma and fatal infections. Makes you two – three times more likely to die than someone your age who doesn’t have the disease and takes ten years off your life.

      But I agree Lupus should definitely be on the list.

    • asdfgh

      Early death would be nice

  • Seal Rj IV

    There is so much more out there. How can you even choose what’s better or worse?

  • Cosmic Spark

    Why is schizophrenia 11th? It’s such an unbelievably terrifying disease, arguably on the level of Alzheimer’s.
    Still, nice list, I guess.

  • Emma

    How about Progeria?

  • Picobill

    Debbie I’d say yes.. got CRPS in 2008 it went full body by 2011 and now waiting on a power chair to get me out of my bed… even then a day out is one of pain.. and with all respects to the RA sufferers CRPS pain is the highest rated pain there is… Also CRPS may not kill but imagine living in such pain 24/7 if you can you can probably understand why CRPS nickname is “The Suicide Disease” But CRPS is a “rare” condition even though it’s incurable so I think whoever put this together was thinking just mainstream…

  • CaraLayne ★

    Does IBD, like Crohn’s Disease fall under the same cateogory as Rheumatoid Arthritis? I Mean, Crohn’s is also autoimmune and definately debilitating so…?

  • Blingthang

    Ha! Whoever wrote this obviously hasn’t actually spoken to any RA sufferers. “Uninterrupted lives.” That’s laughable. It interrupts every part of your life: your work/financial life, athletic life, social life, romantic life and even your ability to care for yourself.

  • HealthyVeggies

    schizophrenia should be number 1 because it is hard to do suicide with it. to be forced to live, institutionalized, to have your suicide blamed on depression or a psychotic break despite being mentally stable on medication and being able to coherently explain why you want to do suicide, to escape the discomfortable medication side effects like irreparable obesity and muscle tremors & inability to care for yourself & because you can no longer stand being institutionalized or living in shared housing…these people NEED the option for assisted suicide, euthanasia, or shit, even a referral for pain killers so they can end their suffering.

    it should be considered torture/the worst form of malpractice, to tell a coherent medicated schizophrenic that they cannot do suicide as a means of escaping inescapable torture, discomfort, & suffering.

    • lisa

      You are not alone. I often feel the same way.

  • mille100piedi .

    what about mitochondrial disease or other metabolic disorder?

  • lisa

    You forgot Narcolepsy- Trying to get daily life activities done when your sleep does nothing for you as you’re stuck in light sleep all night and your brain is half or fully falling asleep during the day when you’re trying to be productive. Being too tired to socialize is draining. Many PWN (People with Narcolepsy) also have Sleep Paralysis, which is quite scary when you’re awake but can’t move your body. Then there’s the automatic behavior that comes with it- doing things while you’re half asleep that you don’t remember doing, waking up fully to be confused, wondering what you just said or did. And worst of all, most of the medical field is so inept at diagnosing Narcolepsy that many PWN go for years, even 10-15, without diagnosis, so everyone thinks you’re lazy. Along with it comes mood problems for some, well we’re functioning on what normal people would feel like if they missed 24-48 hrs of sleep, yeah of course we might have our cranky days. And then there’s pain factors, from not getting restorative sleep, so the body doesn’t heal as well and sends pain signals. And since it’s believed to be autoimmune in nature, most of us have other autoimmune illnesses along with it. I have 3 others so far at age 32. My life was ruined bc I didn’t have a diagnosis of Narcolepsy for too long, now I’m striving to pick up the pieces and really LIVE.

  • HealthyVeggies

    The condition with the worst overall quality of life is severe mental illness (schizophrenia/dementia/bipolar/psychosis/”under surveillance suicide watch” depression).

    Mental illnesses are particularly debilitating in that you are deemed mentally incompetent & so you suffer from your loss of human rights & in addition you suffer from the illness. With mental illness, you have no control over your destiny and the “treatment” you get because you are “mentally incompetent” you can find an opportunity to do painful suicide or be forced against your will to treatments which result in further suffering or homelessness. No one pity the mentally ill they are viewed as the scum of society and are treated as such – the few charities that “help” mental illness end up causing a lot of further torture rather than good (suicide prevention, medications, psych wards rather than legitimizing suicide, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the human right to reject being sent to a psych ward for being suicidal legitimately suicidal, no considerations about quality of life or human rights because of “mental incompetence” label) No one is discriminated against worse than the mentally ill – zero human rights (i mean you dont even get the right to choose to die and end suffering….WTF), no avoiding psych wards, forced suicide prevention, always on suicide watch, people are convinced the medications actually solve problems and improve quality of life up to par enough so that life is better than death (what a joke), highly likely in prison, homeless, or psych ward. What condition has a worse overall quality of life? none. Severe mental illness has such a bad quality of life it makes some people wish for terminal cancer & the life of a patient with terminal cancer viewed and treated as a tragic pained dying angel. The physically ill end up in warm hospital beds the mentally ill end up homeless and jumping off bridges or dying by fire (cant end misery with a gun because mentally ill are not allowed to have guns) or in psych ward prisons or in prison prisons…it’s pretty obvious who have the worst quality of life.

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