Are Americans Ignoring Health Problems?

Andrew Klips  |

ComPsych Corporation, the world’s biggest provider of employee assistance programs, issued on Monday its annual report on our country’s top 10 health problems as assessed by employees.  The official list (which can be obtained for free via registration):

1.     High blood pressure (31%)

2.     Allergies (27%)

3.     High cholesterol (26%)

4.     Back pain (21%)

5.     Gastrointestinal disease (14%)

6.     Headaches (14%)

7.     Anxiety (13%)

8.     Asthma (11%)

9.     Depression (10%)

10.  Diabetes (10%)

It was not possible to discern how many of the people surveyed were reporting multiple conditions.  While the report is merely a snapshot of conditions amongst a broad spectrum of workers, it would be informative to note how many of the conditions were experienced as possible co-morbidities.  For example, repeated short-term episodes of anxiety can damage blood vessels and lead to chronic high blood pressure or allergies leading to headaches.  Further, some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, that are used to treat anxiety can increase blood pressure.

Some commonly used SSRIs include Eli Lilly & Co.’s (LLY) fluoxetine (Prozac) and Pfizer Inc.’s (PFE) Zoloft (sertraline).  Alternatives to SSRIs include benzodiazepine drugs like Pfizer’s Xanax, a brand that has become a household name.

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The best-selling class of blood pressure medications, called angiotensin receptor blockers, has recently come under fire by Food and Drug Administration regulator Thomas Marciniak, saying that the drugs carry a higher risk of cancer for users.  The FDA has said that research doesn’t support Marciniak’s contention for the class of drugs, which include Novartis AG’s (NVS) Diovan and Merck & Co.’s (MRK) Cozaar, which cumulatively generated $7.6 billion in sales in 2012.

It’s interesting to note that in any of the top ten conditions, not more than 61 percent of the employees were on a prescribed medication for the indication (which happened to be for depression).  In a similar space, 47 percent of the people that reported anxiety were on a prescribed medication.  Compared to last year, depression moved down to number 9 from the number 5 spot and anxiety – which presumably wasn’t in the top ten in 2012 – rose to number 7.

High cholesterol, the number 3 reported condition which can lead to coronary heart disease, stroke and more, only had 40 percent of its respondents saying that they take a prescribed medicine to treat.  Comparatively, its pretty amazing (although not really surprising) that a greater percentage of people take pills for depression and anxiety than high cholesterol.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and estimated 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders.  Nearly half of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.  Understand that there is a difference in “normal” anxiety, which can save your life or motivate performance and a true anxiety disorder.  For example, in everyday anxiety, going to a social event may cause of person to prepare to look at feel their best, while a person with a disorder may avoid the situation completely because of fear (such as of being judged or embarrassed in some way).

The results harken the subjective question about what people consider healthy.  89 percent of the respondents considered their overall health as “good,” “very good” or “excellent” (in contrast to 11 percent responding “fair” or “poor”).  Yet, it seems that a decent portion of the respondent population is dealing with conditions and allowing them to go untreated.  Moreover, nearly 30 percent of the respondents exercise 0 – 1 day per week; not exactly a proactive approach to combat stress and other disorders.  If the study is an accurate reflection of our society, many people seem to just cope with health issues and don’t view the given conditions as a problematic or a reason to consider themselves unhealthy.

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