There are many different ways to identify the leading health concerns in a community. You could look at the most common causes of death, the total associated cost of a disease, or the conditions people worry about the most. While these lists are not always the same, certain conditions tend to appear across all of them. The top five health concerns today are:

Hypertension

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a serious medical condition that has become increasingly common in the last few decades. When you have hypertension, blood pushes against the walls of your arteries with a much higher force than normal. This can damage your heart and cause many additional health problems over time. The American Heart Association defines Hypertension Stage 1 as blood pressure at or over 130/80 mmHg, and Hypertension Stage 2 as blood pressure at or over 140/90 mmHg.

Having hypertension puts you at risk for both stroke and heart disease, which are the leading causes of death in the U.S. Most of the time, there are no obvious symptoms of high blood pressure. This is why it is often called a “silent killer." An estimated 46% of adults with hypertension are unaware that they have the condition.

Major depression

Major depression, also called clinical depression, is characterized by intense feelings of sadness for over two weeks. People with major depressive disorder (MDD) experience consistently low moods, low self-esteem, and a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Other symptoms include poor concentration, lack of energy, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and suicidal thoughts. The most frequently prescribed treatments for depression include medication and talk therapy.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. Approximately 19.4 million adults (7.8% of the population) in the U.S. have at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime. Individuals aged 18-25 are the most likely group to have depression (15.2%).

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found in the blood. Our body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but too much of it can lead to major health problems. High cholesterol levels promote the development of fatty deposits in the blood vessels. These deposits grow over time, making it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries. The blockage makes you more likely to have heart problems or a stroke. The National Institute of Health defines high cholesterol for adults as a total blood cholesterol level of over 200mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).

High cholesterol generally has no symptoms. You learn that you have it through a blood test. About 94 million U.S. adults over the age of 20 have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. While high cholesterol can be inherited, it is most often caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and in some cases, medications will help reduce high cholesterol levels.

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Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar. It is a malfunction of the process that converts blood sugar into energy in your body. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant). About 90-95% of people with diabetes have Type 2. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems, nerve damage, or foot problems.

Insulin is the hormone that helps sugar from food get into your cells to be used for energy. With Type 1 diabetes, the body is not able to produce enough insulin. In the case of Type 2 diabetes, your body becomes resistant to insulin. This type of diabetes builds up over time and is generally diagnosed in middle-aged adults. It is largely caused by excess body weight and a lack of physical exercise. Gestational diabetes can develop in pregnant women but typically goes away after the baby is born. 

Substance use disorders

A substance use disorder (SUD) is characterized by a person's addiction to substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, medications, or tobacco. Researchers have found that about half the individuals with SUD also experience another mental disorder in their lifetime. These conditions can include bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and schizophrenia. Typical symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Intense urges for the drug — daily or even several times a day 
  • Increased drug dosage to get the same effect over time
  • Reduced recreational or social activities because of drug use
  • Continued use of the drug, even though you know it causes problems in your life 
  • Experience of withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug

There are many other symptoms specific to the drug being used. 35 million people worldwide are estimated to have drug use disorders. Behavioral therapies and medications can help treat both substance use and mental disorders.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/10/2021
References

American Heart Association: "The Facts About High Blood Pressure," "What is Cholesterol?"

Bains, N., Abdijadid, S. Major Depressive Disorder, StatPearls Publishing, 2021.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "About Multiple Cause of Death, 1999-2019," "High Cholesterol Facts," "What is Diabetes?"

Harvard Health Publishing: "The most important health problems (and why they matter)."

National Institute of Mental Health: "Major Depression," "Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders."

U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know."

World Health Organization Newsroom: "Diabetes," "Drugs (psychoactive)," "Hypertension."