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5 Common Diseases That Many People Don't Know They Have

It's truly amazing how well humans have evolved given how short of a timespan they've been on this planet.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 12,420 disorders, diseases, and health-related ailments that could potentially strike us each and every day. Yet somehow we not only survive, we're managing to thrive, as life expectancy rates around the world continue to rise. The Global Burden of Disease Study conducted in 2010 showed that the number of deaths over age 70 had risen to 43% worldwide, from 33% just 20 years prior.

Source: Josie Kemp, Wikimedia Commons.

This increase in life expectancy can be attributed to increasing awareness of serious diseases, improved pharmacological vaccination rates, and lower worldwide poverty rates that have resulted in better eating habits. 

What's still scary, though, is that there are a number of disorders and diseases -- some very serious, and some not as immediately serious -- that are carried, unknowingly, by people for weeks, months, and in some cases years. Getting these diseases under control and improving awareness of the unknowing carriers of these disease could help improve a quality of life, and has the potential, over time, to make a meaningful impact on worldwide life expectancy.

Let's have a look at five common diseases that I've taken note of in my years of writing about the health-care sector that often go undetected by people, as well as glance at a few therapies and devices that could benefit if awareness of these diseases improved.

Although diabetes is a global problem, it's particularly prevalent in the United States, due to the fact that nearly 34% of the U.S. population is considered obese, and diabetes often goes hand in hand with obesity.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently 25.6 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, 7 million of whom are currently undiagnosed. To add insult to injury, the CDC also notes that there are an additional 79 million adults in this country showing signs of pre-diabetes, a condition that could lead to full-blown diabetes later on in life.

Diabetes is certainly a manageable disease if caught early and treated regularly, which is why the Obamacare health reforms may wind up being crucial to getting people in to see their physician for preventative visits. Were this to happen, I could see a bright future in the cards for Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ  ) Invokana. Invokana is the first SGLT2 inhibitor approved in the U.S. It works by blocking glucose absorption in the kidneys for type 2 diabetes patients (type 2 accounts for 90% of all diabetes cases). As an added bonus, one of Invokana's side effects is modest weight-loss, which is perfect since most diabetes cases lead to a patient being overweight or obese.

Tuberculosis, one of the most common infectious diseases -- and one that is both curable and preventable -- is found in its latent form in about 2 billion people worldwide based on statistics from the World Health Organization. Before you start freaking out, understand that only 5% to 10% of those latent virus carriers will have the potential to develop the active form of the disease at some point in their lives. However, understand that next to AIDS, tuberculosis is the next-greatest single-agent killer in the world. It's an especially virulent disease in lower-to-middle-income countries where 95% of all TB deaths occur. 

Not to beat the drum on Johnson & Johnson, but it also had Sirturo, a multidrug-resistant TB medication, approved by the FDA in late 2012. This was the first TB medication approved in 40 years, and it targets the most difficult to treat form of the disease. Peak sales of Sirturo are estimated as high as $400 million.

Hepatitis C
Based on data from the CDC, there about 3.2 million people infected with hepatitis C, a liver disease, in the United States -- and as many as 75% of those people have no clue they carry the disease. Over time, hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis and even liver cancer. WHO statistics peg the number of worldwide cases at approximately 180 million, meaning, if the CDC's estimates are extrapolated, some 135 million people around the world are clueless that they have this disease.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I believe this could be a shining moment for a medical device maker like OraSure Technologies (NASDAQ: OSUR  ) , which makes a point-of-care test for hepatitis-C, the OraQuick HCV Rapid Antibody Test. In New York, for example, a law was recently passed requiring health-care service providers to supply one free test for hepatitis-C to baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965. With improved testing and awareness, improved treatment results should follow.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is responsible for about 120,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, and is characterized by blockage and inflammation of the tubes of the lungs, making it difficult for a patient to breathe. Smoking is, without question, the predominant factor that often leads to COPD.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health, there are more than 12 million people in this country diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million who are undiagnosed and likely to have this disease.

Obviously, preventative care and increased awareness are the first steps to catching COPD early, but unfortunately there is no cure. However, over the past year we have witnessed the FDA approval of two new long-term COPD treatments from the likes of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) and Theravance (NASDAQ: THRX  ) . Breo Ellipta was approved in May to reduce COPD exacerbations and reduce airflow obstruction, while Anoro Ellipta was approved just last month as a once-daily treatment for airflow obstruction. Together, each therapy is expected to generate in excess of $1 billion in peak sales.

Heart failure
Not to be confused with a sudden heart attack, heart failure is a progressive condition that comes about as a result of a heart attack, chronic high blood pressure, or even diabetes, which affects the ability of the heart to pump blood throughout the body.

Based on statistics from the Heart Failure Society of America, heart failure affects nearly 5 million people in the United States, is the only cardiovascular disease that's still on the rise, and is widely unnoticed by a number of patients. Part of this has to do with minimal research funding and an incomplete understanding of what occurs in heart muscles that causes them to weaken over time. In fact, the HFSA notes that the number of annual diagnoses has more than doubled since 1979. 

While improved preventative care, especially for patients with a history of cardiovascular problems in their family, could stem this rise, pharmacological solutions like Novartis' (NYSE: NVS  ) breakthrough therapy-designated experimental drug RLX030, known as serelaxin, could be the ultimate solution. In clinical trials, serelaxin reduced death rates by 37% in patients with acute heart failure six months after treatment. Because of its breakthrough designation, it could reach pharmacy shelves more quickly than your typical drug and make a huge impact on improving patient quality of life and life expectancy.

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Read/Post Comments (32) | Recommend This Article (93)

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  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 11:49 PM, Whatevs wrote:

    Tuberculosis is NOT a virus and is most commonly caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis which, as the name suggests, is a bacterial infection. This "latent virus" business is simply untrue; it's actually bacteria that have been rendered inactive by the body's immune system. They may become active when the body is under particular stress, explaining the 5%-10% statistic.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 12:02 AM, amenamerica wrote:

    Hepatitis C isn't caused by a virus either. A growing body of research suggests it is caused by environmental factors such as pesticides that can attack the genetic makeup of a person. It's also believed that people are simply born with the Hepatitis C condition. There are other forms of Hepatitis that are caused by viruses by Hepatitis C is not one of them and cannot be given to other people.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 1:19 AM, cid wrote:

    Fantastic article. Very impressive and informative. It is really frightening that in this day and age most people have no common knowledge about diseases. Did they not go to school?

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 5:21 AM, ncoros wrote:

    @ amenamerica, you are either grossly misinformed or spreading lies. This is straight from the mayo clinic and refutes everything you have said. "Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have no symptoms. In fact, most people don't know they have the hepatitis C infection until liver damage shows up, decades later, during routine medical tests.

    Hepatitis C is one of several hepatitis viruses and is generally considered to be among the most serious of these viruses. Hepatitis C is passed through contact with contaminated blood — most commonly through needles shared during illegal drug use."

    also "Vertical transmission of hepatitis C from an infected mother to her child occurs in less than 10% of pregnancies."

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 6:31 AM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    @alfie0077 Seriously, dude? If you had a clue you would realize that the map shows hepatitis c infection rates by intensity of color. However, the data presented is rather circumspect. Egypt has a high rate of infection whereas their next door neighbor Libya has almost none?

    I guess that I should move to Africa, Mongolia, Alaska, or Greenland to avoid this deadly epidemic, lol.

    Your comments about Catholics were highly offensive.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 7:02 AM, crash3085 wrote:

    If you're a diabetic, read up on Invokana before you take it. Scary stuff!

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 8:09 AM, smokebassett wrote:

    No article you find anywhere but a scientific journal is any good any more. The map legend is virtually impossible to read, even on a large-screen monitor. It does, though, make sense to me that Egypt has a high prevalence of contagious hepatitis C virus since Egypt is densely populated. Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco are not. Note that this *contagious* virus tends to be prevalent in densely populated countries and not prevalent in sparsely populated countries.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 8:55 AM, GlenW wrote:

    In the article you state "diabetes often goes hand in hand with obesity." TYPE 2 Diabetes is linked to obesity NOT Type 1 Diabetes. There is a big difference between the two diseases and you should distinguish the two. Just saying diabetes is misleading and irresponsible.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 9:12 AM, Snakepit456 wrote:

    Picked up Hep C back in 1980 from a blood transfusion and basically ignored it because I do not engage in any habits that would make it worse.

    Blew up like a balloon in 2011 and got diagnosed with stage 2 liver cirrhosis.

    Lived for 14 months in 24 hour a day mental and physical agony with no sleep, went from 180 to 125 and gave up hope on finding a donor.

    I was maybe two weeks from dying when donor came in.

    I have recovered in a big way but I would not wish what happened to me on the worst person in the world.

    Simple blood test will let you know if you have it and a new drug just hit the market that is 90% successful with no awful side effect.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 9:29 AM, lyleyboo wrote:

    Huntington's Disease is contracted at conception through DNA transfer. In my opinion it is the worst disease a human can possibly have. Why was it not included in your list? Very few are aware they have it; only those who have undergone DNA testing that targets for HD. Most people begin showing the symptons in their early to mid 40s. Literally nothing can be done, medically, to diminish or get rid of it. I would rather have any disease you mentioned over Huntington's. I won't do it, but I could show you pics of my wife just before her death that would put you in shock. We need to be warning people about HD and the signs to watch for in our parents and grandparents.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 10:13 AM, Litfish wrote:

    Pancreatic cancer is increasingly common and rarely, if ever, caught early enough to treat. Most common among VietNam veterans, our government refuses to include it on its list of Agent Orange related illnesses. After I survived breast cancer, pancreatic cancer killed my husband. Chronic diseases are unfortunate, but deadly illnesses are deadly transforming every life who loves the victim.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 10:58 AM, RagBag wrote:

    Some posters have talked about the map...there is no question of its use, it is useful and you can see the data and explanation directly on the CDC website linked below the map.

    The grey areas are marked "not studied" (there is a legend there at the left bottom), which is a shame as nearly half the world by area seems not studied, so we really do not get a full picture.

    So, incomplete maybe, but not lacking in a legend, and definitely of some value.

    Maybe the countries shaded gray simply refused to participate or do not have a basic statistic gathering infrastructure (But why should Alaska and Finland be gray?), so our understanding of the problem is inadequate.


  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 11:16 AM, gimmemusik911 wrote:

    Comments run the gamut here, many of which indicate understanding. First, they mentioned over 12,000 diseases; if they did not specifically mention the one you think should be mentioned, it is b/c the article would have been far too long to keep going...they mentioned the most COMMON, not necessarily the WORST.

    Hep C is contracted thru blood - even DRIED blood that has been sitting for DAYS, if not weeks. BEWARE. This info fm medical field who has worked in field for years, not someone who read something they mis-interpreted and now choose to spew myths.

    Eat healthy whether you have/could get Diabetes I OR II, differentiation is a moot point really. Either one is not fun, take care!

    As for advice to get medical attn, but you hate the "Affordable Healthcare Act" as it PROPERLY named, what do YOU recommend to even legitimate small businesses who cannot afford health coverage?? There are MORE of those than YOU KNOW. Taxpaying citizens. Insurance companies are greedy and - news flash - do not care about YOU, they just want your money. AHA at least attempts to address this DILEMMA, but by the time gov't got done with hacking at it, I am sure it is a travesty, as is "STATUS QUO."

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 11:54 AM, normgarry wrote:

    The most common sexually transmitted disease is Childbirth.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 1:05 PM, mw3051 wrote:

    articles like these are dangerous.

    the author Sean Williams states that TB is caused by a virus.

    it is not.

    we have known for a long time it is caused by bacteria.

    a virus is to a bacteria what a fish is to a bicycle.

    not even close.

    if you can not give real info then do not write.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 1:39 PM, rotorhead1871 wrote:

    HEP C is caused by a virus.......someone needs to spend a day in the infectious disease department of ANY hospital......

    dont fool yourself with BAD the least..Google is always there.

    Hepatitis C is an infectious disease affecting primarily the liver, caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The infection is often asymptomatic, but chronic infection can lead to scarring of the liver and ultimately to cirrhosis, which is generally apparent after many years. In some cases, those with cirrhosis will go on to develop liver failure, liver cancer or life-threatening esophageal and gastric issues.......

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 2:39 PM, willy1514 wrote:

    You left out the world's most common "disease", which is dental caries (tooth decay).

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 2:42 PM, amenamerica wrote:

    Correction, Hepatitis C is caused by a virus but Autoimmune Hepatitis is not caused by a virus and cannot be passed on to other people.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 6:27 PM, two66ping wrote:

    They say five diseases and then they list six. Obamacare is the last one and by far the deadliest.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 7:47 PM, scoutman wrote:

    have had hep c for ages and had a little treatment.i live a healthy full life and have no viral load,no trace of hep c yet it shows up in blood tests.biopsy shows no damage.i have had it diagnosed back in my fourties and now i am 66.....lucky.i likely will be dead in less than 8yrs but i said that when i was 18 and a trooper in vietnam

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 8:45 PM, gwtx2 wrote:

    If you like your plan, you can keep your plan!

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 9:04 PM, marimc4444 wrote:

    I have had Hep C for decades and my liver is fine. My spouse of 27 years does not have it and we share everything. The doctor told me that some have a very low level and will not need treatment.

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 11:49 PM, Mak1Mea wrote:

    My experience has been that I always have at least one Doctor that doesn't tell you anything even when you ask. I had one that kept telling me that I wasn't overweight, even when my BMI was 28. A little obtuse I think. No information is very,

    very dangerous.

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 3:21 AM, cash3p wrote:

    There are several type of diabetes, and not all of them are associated with obesity. While type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, diabetes is a very complex disease. We don't fully understand it's causes...evidence suggests that obesity might even be the result of type 2 diabetes, not a cause. No wonder nobody knows anything, the media chronically perpetuates myths and spreads misinformation...please do your research.

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 6:49 AM, Scobe wrote:

    I think something like 20 percent of the population of the old West died of TB. Certainly, Doc Holliday did. Imagine the number of people he infected during his dental career.

    Frank Scoblete author of "Confessions of a Wayward Catholic"

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 8:28 AM, hanieh22277 wrote:

    so what can we do about it??

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 10:02 AM, Sombraman wrote:

    ".....diabetes often goes hand in hand with obesity." Hey Sean! If you are going to make this statement, then please clarify and do your research before hand!! There are two types of diabetes, and your statement is okay if you would have specified which type you are referring too - Type II. Type I is insulin-dependent and only makes-up less then 10% of people with diabetes. Type II is in epidemic proportions because there is a flippen McDonalds on every corner.

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 10:53 AM, docnews2014 wrote:

    Treatments are always a good thing to have, but in this day and age, We need CURES. Think about the increase in diabetes alone which will result in an acute increase in the number of blind persons and those on dialysis. The more we invest in research and development toward curing the diseases which overwhelm the system from a monetary standpoint, and result in severe disability, the better off we will all be. There will always be a need for treatments for the next round of diseases, etc.. We really need to focus on cures rather than treatments if we truly want improved quality of life and better health care for all.

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 11:35 AM, Hannibal26 wrote:

    The ones that are the most deadly are: LIDS or Limited Intellectual Disability Syndrome. Which affects your brain for intelligence and IQ capacity, the other is A.C.I.D. attacks, which are commonly referred to as Anal Cranial Inversion Disorders, mostly both are of political origin and usually treatable by REMOVING them from office when their agenda supersedes their constituents requests for services unfulfilled.

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 11:41 AM, nightangel6662 wrote:

    the people who run pharmicitual co dont want cures.

    It would cut down on their profits.More profitable for them for you to manage your health problems

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2014, at 12:11 PM, poik0002 wrote:

    HPV should be #1 on this list.

    Do you get weird acne on the neck? Stuff that scabs and won't go away for months?

    Have you had swelling from athletes foot?

    Have you been dealing with cellulitis infections?

    All HPV. Which is similar to HIV, except it doesn't kill you. Unless you contract cancer from cysts or warts.

    Have you had sex in the last year? If you have, you probably have at least one form of HPV.

  • Report this Comment On January 11, 2014, at 1:19 AM, london123 wrote:

    Liposuction is a contributor to many diseases processes.


    The study done at UC Denver in 2011 concluded that after LIPOSUCTION, fat re-deposits creating more visceral fat. In online blogs, some patients describe the way fat re-accumulates in disturbing ways a year or more after liposuction (regardless of continued balanced diet and exercise).


    Hyperlipidemia is the presence of elevated or abnormal levels of lipids and/or lipoproteins in the blood, and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Fat embolus syndrome (FES) is a disorder caused by fat particles that enter the circulatory system and is characterized by respiratory, hematological, neurological, and skin symptoms. LIPOSUCTION causes mechanical trauma to fat deposits, which leads to systematic fat mobilization. Studies conclude that FES occurs after liposuction. A clinical study done on rats published in the ‘Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Journal’ in 2009 revealed that: “Although there were no fat particles in the blood before liposuction, blood specimens obtained following the procedures and in the long-term had fat particles.” Coroners reports include the fact that liposuction causes fat embolus.


    Insulin resistance (IR) is a physiological condition in which cells fail to respond to the normal actions of the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance can contribute to hypoglycemia, and contribute Type 2 Diabetes. A study done in Brazil in 2013 concluded that “Insulin resistance shows significant increase in LIPOSUCTION, and it is correlated to the volume of aspirated fat”. In other words, insulin resistance increased with liposuction as the volume of aspirated fat increased: over 1500 g there was an increase of 123% and less than 1500 g there was an increase of 53 % from the baseline data.


    Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that occur together and raises your risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type II diabetes. The American Journal of Physiology published an article that concluded that hamsters that underwent lipectomy (LIPOSUCTION) developed a metabolic syndrome with significant hypertriglyceridemia, relative increase in intra-abdominal fat, and insulin resistance. “We propose that subcutaneous adipose tissue (SQAT), via disposal and storage of excess ingested energy, acts as a metabolic sink and protects against the metabolic syndrome of obesity.”

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Sean Williams

A Fool since 2010, and a graduate from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Economics, Sean specializes in the healthcare sector and in investment planning topics. You'll usually find him writing about Obamacare, marijuana, developing drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices, Social Security, taxes, or any number of other macroeconomic issues.

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